COLUMBUS, Ohio – A long black curtain and 50 feet separated the Fairleigh Dickinson and Purdue locker rooms in the Nationwide Arena tunnel.
You couldn’t see what was happening behind the curtain, but you could certainly hear it.
Non-stop jubilation from the Knights’ locker room resonated for at least 10 minutes going on forever. Fairleigh Dickinson guards Sean Moore and Grant Singleton strolled past the Purdue door — eyes transfixed on their phones with frozen smiles that only come with the new-found celebrity of being the second No. 16 seed to knock off a No. 1 seed in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
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The Knights created the noise with a 63-58 upset on Friday that is the worst loss in Big Ten men’s basketball history. The Boilermakers – despite 7-foot-4 center Zach Edey’s 21-point, 15-rebound performance, become the second answer to the inglorious two-part trivia question. No. 1 Virginia lost to No. 16 UMBC in 2018, and now misery has company.
Purdue (29-6) wore that loss with remarkable class. David Jenkins Jr. interrupted Moore’s postgame radio interview on the court to shake his hand. Coach Matt Painter walked to the press conference with Edey and Fletcher Loy trailing in silence; oblivious to the noise behind the curtain. Inside that locker room, Caleb Furst shook his head in disbelief before answering questions. Ethan Morton delivered a two-minute answer to the question nobody wants to answer at that moment.
“I’m hurting a lot, obviously for everyone in here, but especially you know Zach and Coach Paint and all of these guys that have been here,” Morton said. “They wanted a Final Four more than anyone in this world, and it hurts that we’ve thrown that away a couple times.”
Three years in a row, to be exact. That will be the fallout for a Purdue team that is 76-24 the last three seasons; only to live out a three-year nightmare in the NCAA Tournament. No. 13 North Texas knocked the Boilermakers out in the first round in 2021, and No. 15 Saint Peter’s ousted Purdue in 2022.
MORE: History of Purdue upsets in NCAA tourney
Now the Big Ten – a conference trying to break a national championship drought that extends back to 2000 – has a new low to lament. This was worse than No. 2 Michigan State losing to No. 15 Middle Tennessee State in 2016 or No. 2 Ohio State losing to No. 15 Oral Roberts in 2021. Big Ten football now has a basketball sibling for Appalachian State’s upset of Michigan in football in 2007.
But this is about the Boilermakers most of all. When will that long, black curtain finally come down for Purdue; a program trying to get back to the FInal Four for the first time since 1980?
“We worked very hard and have done things the right way in our program,” said Painter, whose Boilers were 23.5-point favorites. “I think six straight years we’ve been a top-five seed. That’s all you try to do. You just try to fight to get in the best position possible, and now we get in the best position possible and this happens.”
Fairleigh Dickinson went at Purdue from start to finish, from Moore’s opening drive right at Edey. Moore’s top of the key 3-pointer that gave FDU a 61-56 lead made the last 1:03 an excruciating reality for the Boilermakers. Moore finished with 19 points and became the latest Cinderella we will never forget.
MORE: Comparing UMBC, Farleigh Dickinson upsets
Purdue did everything in between to make that upset possible. The Boilermakers averaged 10.8 turnovers per game this season. Purdue had eight in the first half and 15 for the game. They played tight and could never figure out just how to exploit all of their obvious advantages.
The Knights’ lack of size didn’t matter, which could be seen when 5-foot-8 guard Demetre Roberts slipped a layup through Edey that gave Fairleigh Dickinson a one-point lead it held through halftime. Ansley Almonor – the tallest player on FDU’s front line at 6-foot-6 – was part of a group that held Edey scoreless until the 11:06 mark in the first half.
“Limited my touches in the post,” Edey said. “Saw a lot of times they would have one dude guarding from behind and one dude basically sitting in my lap. They were full-fronting the entire game. Made it very hard to get catches.”
Even when Edey sparked a 11-0 second-half run that pushed the Boilermakers’ lead to 47-41, the Knights rallied. After a tip-in with 9:25 remaining, Edey didn’t take another shot – a problem compounded by Purdue’s inability to hit the 3-point shot. The Boilermakers shot 5 of 26 from 3-point range. Purdue had the looks all night. Loyer air-balled a 3-pointer from the corner with seven seconds left, and that’s when the “F-D-U!” chants broke out for good. The Boilermakers needed to be more than Edey, and that simply did not happen.
“You don’t want to make excuses,” Painter said. “I think the shooting, maybe. But like, you know, I don’t want to take anything away from Fairleigh Dickinson. I thought they were great. They were special.”
The Knights will revel in that for the next 48 hours ahead of the second-round matchup. Fairleigh Dickinson coach Tobin Anderson – who called this shot after the First Four victory against Texas Southern on Wednesday – mixed-and-matched the speeches from underdog movies “Hoosiers” and “Miracle” together in the aftermath.
“They’d probably beat us 99 times,” Anderson said. “Play them 100 times, we have one win. But tonight’s the one we had to be unique, we had to be unorthodox. We had to make it tough on them, just be different.”
Purdue couldn’t adjust; could not be different. That’s going to stick heading into 2023. Edey gave a succinct replay when asked whether he would consider the 2023 NBA Draft.
“I have no opinion on that,” Edey said. “I’ll make my decision going forward.”
MORE: Why Zach Edey doesn’t project as an NBA first-rounder
Either way, expect more heat on Painter – who has built long-term stability with 14 tournament appearances that include six Sweet 16 appearances and a trip to the Elite EIght in 2018-19. Yet this team will be linked to the 2017-18 Virginia team, which won the national championship the year after losing to UMBC.
Painter took the time to answer a few extra questions even after the moderator stopped, and he even preemptively addressed any notion of hot-seat talk or whether this program will suffer a hangover.
“We’re not going to give into it, I know that,” Painter said. “Unless they move me. We’re not going to give into it. We’ll keep fighting and do everything in our power to make our program better to get right back here and play better.”
Give credit to Purdue for trying to get ahead of the conversation that will follow this team into 2023-24.
The volume will be louder than ever.