When the final buzzer sounded to give Fairleigh Dickinson its first ever NCAA Tournament victory, senior Darnell Edge flung the ball up in the air just as much out of relief as in celebration.
The Knights trailed most of the game but rallied for an 82-76 win over Prairie View A&M in the First Four opener Tuesday at UD Arena.
FDU had failed to advance in each of its first five NCAA Tournament trips, including a 31-point loss to Florida Gulf Coast in the 2016 First Four that Edge remembers all too well.
Edge started to get flashbacks from his last trip to Dayton as Prairie View built a 13-point lead in the first half, but the senior guard made sure the result was different this time. He scored a game-high 33 points to send the Knights onward to play top-seeded Gonzaga on Thursday in Salt Lake City.
“It was just a great feeling for me, being here three years ago and losing by over 30 points,” Edge said. “And then coming back this year and being able to get a win. It’s a great feeling. It’s history. I wouldn’t have wanted to do it with any other team.”
FDU found itself playing catchup most of the night after taking a 6-5 lead with 17:29 left in the first half and then going the next seven minutes without a point while struggling against Prairie View’s smothering press defense. The Panthers went on a 14-0 run during that time, forcing 10 turnovers before Edge was able to get into a rhythm offensively and keep the Knights from falling even further behind.
Edge’s 3-pointer with 10:18 left trimmed down a 13-point deficit, and that was as bad as it got in the first half. He drained another shot from behind the arc just before the halftime buzzer, and Prairie View went to the locker room with just a 41-34 advantage.
Sophomore Jahlil Jenkins took over in the second half to help slowly chip away at the Prairie View cushion, eventually scoring back-to-back field goals to tie the game at 59 with 7:33 left. After a Panthers turnover, Mike Holloway Jr. scored on a putback and FDU had its first lead since those opening three minutes.
“We made the first two 3s and I’m, like, here we are,” FDU coach Greg Herenda said. “And then we went cold for eight minutes. And they’re good. That’s a good, fast, well coached — they’re good.
“But I knew we were going to show our mettle, and we did. And I think it was the under-eight timeout, I said, ‘We just have to get the lead and we’re going to run away and hide.’ … They didn’t quit.”
The Knights ended up with as much as a nine-point lead down the stretch, but Prairie View made it a two-point game when Gary Blackston hit a 3-pointer with 50 seconds left. Holloway responded with a bucket and Edge sealed the game with a pair of free throws with 17 seconds remaining.
Jenkins scored 20 of his 22 points in the second half, and Holloway and Kaleb Bishop also reached double figures with 10 points each.
“I think they capitalized anytime you make a mistake, they make you pay,” Prairie View coach Byron Smith said. “Obviously the kid, Edge, heck of a basketball player. We knew that coming in, but even more impressive in person.
“Every time we didn’t guard the ball screen the right way or we made a mistake, we over-helped, they made us pay. And they didn’t miss many shots. Great shooting team. We knew that coming in. But we were hoping we could catch them on an off night, and that wasn’t the case tonight.”
Blackston led the Panthers with 26 points, while Devonte Patterson added 17 and Chancellor Ellis 12.
FDU overcame 17 turnovers and Prairie View’s 15 made 3-pointers to keep its season going.
“It’s overwhelming,” Herenda said. “When you coach for 35 years and you take a team to a NCAA Tournament and a team that, when I got here six years ago, we had nothing. And to build it — it’s all those hours and … they work hard. They love it. They are engaged. I was here three years ago. I was the first coach out of 68 to be up here after we got our fannies kicked. I know that feeling too. But this feeling is — it’s special.”