We should begin with the big picture because everything else that follows will be celebrating the power of all things small.

Fairleigh Dickinson’s first-round victory over No. 1 seeded Purdue is the biggest upset in NCAA Tournament history and maybe college basketball history. Go ahead and comb through the record books, if you must. What happened last night in Columbus, Ohio, between the tiny commuter school from Teaneck and the Big Ten powerhouse from Indiana is basically unparalleled.

Some will point to Chaminade’s stunning win over Virginia and superstar center Ralph Sampson way back in 1982. Others will cite the more recent No. 16 seed UMBC’s tournament victory against top-seeded Virginia in 2018. Both belong in the conversation.

But what happened on Friday night is the basketball embodiment of David vs. Goliath.

Purdue was the tallest team in the sport this season, according to KenPom’s rankings. FDU was No. 363 — or, more succinctly, dead bleepin’ last. But you didn’t need a fancy statistical breakdown to understand what you were watching was extraordinary. You only needed to use your eyes.


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This one looked like a seventh-grade team had been called up to play against the varsity. Purdue had 7-foot-4 Zach Edey, of course, but no team has a player that can match his size. The Boilermakers were a half-foot taller at every other position, too, against an FDU team with an average height of just 6-foot-1.

Yankees fans will remember the postseason game in Cleveland when pitcher Joba Chamberlain was engulfed by midges on the mound. Well, FDU was the midges, and for two glorious hours, Purdue was hopelessly swatting at them, and swatting at them, and ...

Final score: FDU 63, Purdue 58.

“What a night,” FDU head coach Tobin Anderson said at a press conference in Columbus. “Incredible win for us. Incredible win for our program, our school. Hard to put it in words right now. Honestly, it’s really hard to even — it just happened, right?”

Yes, it did, and it continues a downright spooky run New Jersey teams are having in March Madness. Saint Peter’s became the first No. 15 seed to reach the Elite Eight last March. Princeton, another No. 15, upset Arizona on Thursday night. Now FDU becomes the second No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.

The record for those plucky 16s? They were 1-150 — that’s one win, one hundred fifty losses — heading into FDU-Purdue. Again: This was nuts. NUTS!

It gets nuttier. Vegas had never seen a bigger upset in the NCAA Tournament, with the Boilermakers favorited by 23 1/2 points. FDU was +2,000 ($100 wins $2,000) to win outright while the Boilermakers as chalky as -10,000 on the moneyline. More than 98 percent of the money bet on this game was plunked on Purdue.

It gets even more nuttier. Is that a thing? Ah, screw it. It just does.

FDU shouldn’t even be here. The Knights only made the NCAA Tournament on a technicality after losing to Merrimack in the NEC tournament finals. But because Merrimack is still in its required transition period from Division 2 to Division 1, it ceded the automatic bid to FDU. The Knights were the final team on the selection committee’s seed list.

Yes, FDU was a respectable 20-15 heading into this game, although there were a few losses on its 2022-23 ledger to teams (Queens? Stonehill?) that you probably had to look up. Still: 20-15 isn’t bad. Just one year ago, though, the Knights were 4-22 and ranked 345th in the nation according to KenPom’s ratings. They were basically hopeless.

That’s when FDU made the decision to fire head coach Greg Herenda and bring in Anderson, who had spent the past nine seasons as head coach of Division II St. Thomas Aquinas. Even most FDU fans probably couldn’t have picked Anderson out of a lineup until after his team dominated Texas Southern in the First Four on Wednesday night.

And then came this humdinger of a quote: “The more I see Purdue, the more I think we can beat them.” That’s what Anderson told his players in the locker room after the First Four in a video that went viral. It seemed ridiculous at the time — why give Purdue, which ran away with the Big Ten title, extra motivation?

Instead, it’s the stuff of legend, a basketball version of Herb Brooks from the Miracle on Ice, or Joe Namath guaranteeing that the Jets would win Super Bowl III, or ... well, Anderson isn’t going to get too carried away with the comparisons.

“I’m not sure how much I meant it,” said Anderson, who somehow talks faster than his team plays. “I wanted our guys to believe. As a coach or a leader, you try to get them to believe in what we’re doing, how we’re doing it. Now, I would have preferred there was not a camera in there. It was the right message, wrong audience, that’s what I would say.

“I didn’t mean to get Purdue upset. That was not the idea at all. But that’s got to be the message: We’re trying to win the next game. We just can’t be happy to be here.”

That’s the right thing to say, but let’s face it, it’s all gravy from here on out for FDU. The Knights have taken their place in NCAA Tournament history. The smallest team in college basketball just pulled off the biggest upset ever on another unforgettable night for New Jersey hoops.


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Steve Politi may be reached at [email protected].

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