STATEN ISLAND – In the end, maybe Fairleigh Dickinson was just too young to realize they weren’t supposed to win the NEC.
Picked ninth in the preseason conference coaches’ poll, and playing exclusively with freshmen and sophomores (the fourth youngest team in the country according to KenPom), the Knights are headed to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005, completing an amazing run by upsetting top-seeded Wagner 87-79 in front of a sellout crowd at the Spiro Center.
Sophomore Earl Potts was named Tournament MVP and had 27 points for the Knights (18-14), including some massive shots in the second half. It completes a turnaround for the ages for Greg Herenda, who arrived in Hackensack three years ago with six players on the roster and a team that had finished the previous season losing 16 straight games (and not even qualified for the NEC Tournament in the last two campaigns).
Fairleigh Dickinson 87, Wagner 79 final. From worst. To first. NEC champions. pic.twitter.com/iLXqKii4gT
— Ray Curren (@currenrr) March 9, 2016
“My team lost 15 games in a row last year, so for all the young boys and girls that are coaching and struggling, you just have to stick with it and believe in yourself,” Herenda said. “Tonight, our team reaped the fruits of all their hard work.”
Wagner opened the game making seven of its first 10 shots to build a 13-2 lead (with Mike Aaman getting six of those points in the paint) over what looked like an extremely nervous FDU squad.
But the Knights, who have played fearless ball all season, got their legs, and stormed back with a 13-4 run over their own led by Earl Potts, who had 11 first-half points including a three at the buzzer to cut Wagner’s lead to 35-33.
Potts hit a runner on the opening possession of the second half to even the game, then Darian Anderson hit a three a minute later to give FDU a brief 38-37 lead. However, Mike Holloway, who had 19 points and 16 rebounds in the semifinal against Mount St. Mary’s, picked up his third foul soon after and the Seahawks immediately took the lead back.
Greg Herenda with a hug from Jim Calhoun, who didn’t hire him, but kept in touch over the years: pic.twitter.com/QYgQCRgpXM
— Ray Curren (@currenrr) March 9, 2016
But FDU showed the swagger it had all season long, hitting big shot after big shot, and it was Wagner who blinked down the stretch, unable to get anything to go as FDU slowly but surely pulled away. Potts’ three with 5:44 left put the Knights up 65-59 and started an 11-1 that put FDU up 73-60 with 3:30 left.
“I think whoever we play is going to have a hard time,” Potts said.
Wagner (22-10), who was led by Corey Henson’s 24 points, scored the next seven points and FDU finally showed a little immaturity, but Darian Anderson, who finished with 28 points, including 10-11 at the line, hit two free throws and followed it up with a three-point play and Herenda could look to the FDU crowd behind his bench and pump his fists.
“They made a lot of shots that just deflated us,” Wagner coach Bashir Mason said. “If I had to do again, I would still go with these guys, I love them, it just didn’t happen for us tonight. I felt like there were three or four plays where there was a loose ball and they just found a way to pick them up and score.”
The Knights will almost assuredly head to Dayton next week to participate in what Herenda called Saturday “the greatest tournament God ever created.”
And wrestling the NEC trophy from their grasp going forward may not be easy.
MVP showing off his net-cutting skills. #DukeOfEarl #NEC16 pic.twitter.com/fwah0yNHhV
— Ron Ratner (@NECHoopsRon) March 9, 2016
Game on from Staten Island! This is going to be cool. #TMMLegacy
A photo posted by Ray Curren (@goldenbally) on
2 thoughts on “FDU 87, Wagner 79: From Worst To First, Knights Win NEC”
As a long suffering FDU Fan, last night victory was a top Bucket List Event I never thought would happen. There is alot of talk about last year 15 game losing streak. But this is really a different team then last year. the starting lineup last year was Stokes,Harris,MacDonald,Jones,and Anderson. This year lineup is Potts,Holloway,Jingett,Townes,and Anderson. Plus the bench is much stronger with Miller,Nehme,Edge,O’Garro. Thus a bigger, deeper and more talented team. I also think the age thing is overdone. Kentucky etc wins with Freshmen and young players, Talent is talent no matter what the age. On to the Big Dance! go Knights
FDU has been a great story this year… It is nice to see them rewarded! Should be a scary bunch (and probably preseason #1 in the NEC) next year. Congrats to Coach Herenda and the Knights – win in Dayton!