The 2023 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, aka March Madness, got underway last night in Dayton, Ohio. it began with the First Four and in Game 1 it was the Knights of Fairleigh Dickinson vs the Tigers of Texas Southern. The hope for one of these two teams is like all others in the dance. Win and advance.
FDU has been led by Demetre Roberts, a 5’8″ spark plug who never lets his lack of size affect his game. He averaged 16.7 points per game during the season. He got help from grad student, Grant Singleton who averaged 14.3 points per game during the season.
TSU has their horse in Sr. John Walker III who has been here and done this before. He averaged 12.6 a game during the season and kept a TSU team together that struggled through a lot of the season
The Knights got off to a hot start hitting four of their first five shots and took a 10-2 lead that forced TSU coach, Johnny Jones to call a timeout at the 17:54 mark. Forward, Sean Moore led the way with five quick points as FDU hit their first two three-pointers. TSU was having trouble with the pace the Knights set to open the game. They came out flat and shot just 2-7 in the first four and a half minutes of the game.
As the first 10 minutes went on, the Tigers made a run here and there but could not get close enough to the Knights. They were still having a problem with the FDU tempo and could not buy a three-pointer. Two free throws by Brayden Reynolds made it 26-17 Knights with just over eight minutes to play. After a basket and a couple of steals, the Tigers had a 6-0 run to cut the lead to 26-23 prompting a timeout from FDU coach Tobin Anderson.
The Knights answered with a 10-0 run to take a 13-point lead. Once again, TSU would have trouble with their decision-making on defense because of the pace FDU was playing. Roberts hit two big three-pointers in the run. Walker finally hit a shot for TSU to end the run and make it 36-25 with 3:11 to go. One thing was for sure, it was an action-packed first half up to this point.
The half would come to end and not a moment too soon for Texas Southern. FDU would end the half on a 19-6 run to take a 45-29 halftime lead. The Knight starting five had 41 of those points while TSU got 22 of their points in the paint but were 0-8 from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes.
TSU began the second half with an airball and an out-of-bounds on the baseline. Fairleigh Dickinson would answer with a three from Joidon Karl Nichols to take a 48-29 lead. A 7-2 run by the Tigers cut the lead to 14 at 50-36. But it was the same thing so far. The inability of the Tigers to take advantage and cut into the Knights’ lead. They were also shooting a donut from three-point land (0-11) at the 14-minute mark of the second half. The worst part was the way they were missing threes. A good amount of shots were airballs or bad shots that were not even close.
Over the next five minutes Texas Southern had many chances to cut the lead below 10 but bad shot selection kept that from happening. A 10-2 run by FDU pushed the lead back up to 18 at 64-46 with just 7:43 to play. If TSU was going to have any chance to advance, they would have to turn up the defense while hitting some threes.
The lead would get to 20, 66-46 with seven minutes to play, and it looked like time was just about running out for TSU. Another set of bad shots by the Tigers and dumb fouls would keep Fairleigh Dickinson in control. The Knights would hit their 24th free throw of the game. The most all season in the game.
The Tigers finally made their first three-point shot of the game at the 4:52 mark but the lead was 71-53 with time running out. It would make no difference as FDU hit three straight threes and the lead was 25, 80-55.
The Knights would use the clock and kill off the last three minutes to finish off the Tigers by a score of 84-61. It would be a strong wire-to-wire performance for FDU. They would shoot 50% from the field (23-56), 40.7% from three (11-27), and 87.1% from the free throw line. They were led by Ansley Almonor (22 points), Joe Mulden Jr. (17 points), and Demetre Roberst (15 points).
For TSU, it was John Walker III leading the way with 22 points. The only other Tiger in double figures was Nichols with 10 points. TSU ended up shooting 1-17 from three-point land.
After the game, the FDU players talked about their journey here. How winning just four games last year never looked so good. How ready they were to play this game and to move on to mighty Purdue. Coach Anderson talked about how good of a game his team played. How little he had to coach and how his team is ready and confident to play Friday.
TSU coach Johnny Jones talked about the effort his team put in and that FDU just played such a good game. How they were able to keep his team at bay and hold them off every time they made a run. I asked the coach about the team’s three-point shooting and he pointed out how his team was just a 29% three-point shooting team. He talked about how pleased he was with points in the paint and the fact that his team could not get to the free-throw line as much as he would have hoped.
Fairleigh Dickinson moves on to play top-ranked Purdue on Friday. A tough challenge indeed. But this is March Madness where anything can happen.
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