DAYTON, Ohio (AP)Ansley Almonor scored 23 points and Fairleigh Dickinson beat Texas Southern 84-61 Wednesday night to earn its first NCAA Tournament win in four seasons.
The Knights held a 14-2 lead after a 12-0 run in the opening 3:29 and didn’t never gave up the lead. Grant Singleton scored seven points during a 19-6 run in which the Knights led by as many as 18 points at the end of the first half.
Jordan Gilliam made a jumper that got Texas Southern as close as 10 points with 10:01 left in the second half. The Tigers shot 42% and went 1 for 17 from 3-point distance.
Fairleigh Dickinson shot 50% and made 11 3’s to advance to the East Region and play top-seeded Purdue in Columbus, Ohio, on Friday.
“Our press got us going, and then our half-court defense was excellent. We shared the ball. We played unselfish,” Fairleigh Dickinson coach Tobin Anderson said. “When you play that well, life’s pretty easy, so I thought we played very, very well.”
Joe Munden Jr. scored 17 points, Demetre Roberts had 15, Singleton finished with 13 and Sean Moore 10 for Fairleigh Dickinson (20-15).
John Walker III led Texas Southern (14-21) with 22 points. Joirdon Karl Nicholas added 10.
“Unfortunately, we just didn’t have enough to overcome those guys and their 3-point shooting tonight,” Texas Southern coach Johnny Jones said.
A DREAM FOR ANDERSON
Around a year ago, Anderson wrapped up his ninth season as head coach of Division II St. Thomas Aquinas.
He compiled a 10-7 record in the NCAA Tournament and took the Spartans to the Elite Eight in 2016-17.
Anderson arrived at Fairleigh Dickinson in 2022 tasked with improving on a 4-22 season. In less than one year, he and the Knights captured an NCAA Tournament win.
“It’s hard to put it into words, really,” Anderson said. “There’s not something I could say. It’s just been an unbelievable ride. We never would’ve dreamed of this 10 months ago.”
SETTING THE TONE
Fairleigh Dickinson led the Northeastern Conference behind an average scoring offense of 77.8 points per game.
The Knights started fast, leading by as many as 12 points in the first three minutes. Singleton scored seven of Fairleigh Dickinson final 19 points in the first half that helped keep the Tigers more than three points behind for the rest of the game.
“Once you get the butterflies out, you get used to this stage,” Singleton said. “Coach was telling us to have fun. It’s fun being out there, fun playing in a crowd like that with a team that’s so good. We just wanted to get the butterflies out and keep playing.”
SMALL BUT MIGHTY
The Knights are the shortest team in Division I, standing at an average height of 6-foot-1.
Disregarding size, the Knights had the upper hand on the glass. Fairleigh Dickinson had a 32-31 rebounding advantage and held Texas Southern to 10 offensive rebounds.
“We’re the shortest team in Division 1, so we got to make an impact in some way,” Roberts said. “I think when we throw the first punch, it’s a good outcome for us so we got to just keep on doing that.”
Fairleigh Dickinson: First-year coach Tobin Anderson turned around a Knights squad that went 4-22 a season ago.
“I just think that’s a testament to coach and how much we believe in coach,” Munden said. “We came in from Day 1 and we gelled together and we’re doing pretty well.”
Texas Southern: The Tigers missed their first 13 3’s before making their first with 4:52 remaining. Their 28.4% clip this season from 3-point distance ranks worst in the Southwest Athletic Conference, and Texas Southern missed out on winning its third-straight appearance in the First Four.
Fairleigh Dickinson will play Purdue on Friday.
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