Fairleigh Dickinson, Princeton, Furman and the Joy of March Upheavals

SACRAMENTO — At its best, March isn’t so much about madness as it is about pure, unbridled joy.

It stirs with the highly anticipated first look at the men’s and women’s NCAA tournaments, then crescendos with the unexpected emergence of giant killers – this year, Fairleigh Dickinson, Princeton and Furman slaying men’s powerhouses Purdue, Arizona and Virginia. Once again, underdog-induced chaos prevails.

For those who both play and love college basketball, March becomes a long adrenaline rush, punctuated by exuberant nights and restless sleeps.

When Fairleigh Dickinson knocked out Purdue on Friday night, 63-58, it was only the second time in the history of the men’s tournament that a No. 16 seed had ousted a No. 1 seed. he other No. 16 seed to pull the rug out — University of Maryland, Baltimore County, who beat Virginia in 2018 — had company. It was the third stunning tournament development in about 24 hours.

If FDU played Purdue 100 times, the Boilermakers would “probably beat us 99 times,” coach Tobin Anderson said. “Play them 100 times, we have a win. But tonight is the one.

For the sport and its enthusiasts, those single nights can last a lifetime.

“It’s one of the few things in life where they told me how good it was and, in a way, it’s better,” Furman’s trainer Bob Richey told Fox radio shortly after his team kicked off the knockout stages on Thursday. Furman earned an exhilarating 68-67 triumph over fourth-seeded Virginia on JP Pegues’ last 3-pointer.

It was 13th-seeded Furman’s first NCAA tournament game since 1974, which is why Richey, the school’s coach since 2017, had all the stories but no first-hand knowledge of it. what would be the experience.

Hours later, as the final seconds ticked away of another classic that will live on indelibly in long-term memories, Tosan Evbuomwan jumped up, grabbed the basketball and shielded it with the zeal of a security guard as the No. 15 Princeton seed was stunned. Arizona, second seed, 59-55. On Friday night, the No. 10 seeded Princeton Women offered an encore by knocking out No. 7 seed North Carolina State, on a game-winning 3-pointer from Grace Stone with 4.7 seconds left.

March leads the nation in impromptu group gatherings in front of TV screens, with so many hanging on at so many times under pressure for different reasons. Some are alumni transfixed by the love of their universities. Others are simply sucked into the drama, written by schools they’ve barely heard of with mysterious nicknames that need to be considered later.

Search for “Paladin” and you’ll find that the Furman basketball team has a nickname defined by the American Heritage College Dictionary as “one of the 12 court peers of the French Emperor Charlemagne” in the 8th century. Or, simply put, a fanciful term for a knight (like Fairleigh Dickinson’s).

Knowledge of nicknames, atmospheres, and arena sizes all swell at this time of year. Pegues said the rally for Virginia’s game in Orlando, Florida was “the biggest crowd we’ve ever played” in front. In Columbus, Ohio, fans of Florida Atlantic and Memphis, before their own goofy finish Friday night fell fast for Fairleigh Dickinson as it became clear her performance against Purdue could be more than a good sweat. Likewise in Sacramento, support for Princeton’s men grew as he pushed against Arizona.

All three underdogs have sharpened their focus and demonstrated the mental acuity that life’s most stressful times need to succeed.

“Coach told us he was a nameless, faceless opponent,” said Jalen Slawson, a fifth-year forward at Furman who was named Southern Conference Player of the Year. “Every night Furman tries to play by Furman standards. And we know that when we do it offensively and defensively, we can play with anyone in the country.

Richey asked his players to ‘absorb’ this, said Slawson, who added the team ‘did a lot of absorption yesterday’ after the coach gave ‘three minutes to calm down at the start of the game. “.

Time is both fleeting and fragile in this month. “Survive and move on,” was a fond saying of the late Jim Valvano, who led North Carolina State into one of the biggest championship upsets in history when the Wolfpack defeated the Phi Slamma Jamma Houston Cougars. in 1983.

For those who lose? The end is unbearably sudden. In its pre-tournament briefing, Princeton heard what everyone has heard: if you lose to Arizona on Thursday afternoon, get back to your hotel, pack your bags quickly, get to the airport and you will go home that evening.

The message was clear: this is not a quiet class trip. Teams are moved in and out. The merry-go-round continues to spin.

The Tigers earned the right to savor their time on Thursday before turning to preparing for their next opponent, Missouri, on Saturday. The coaching staff and team enjoyed a special dinner, steaks at The Firehouse Restaurant and were appropriately greeted by the restaurant team upon arrival.

Without a doubt, it was a night the Tigers and their loved ones will forever remember, just as their 1996 predecessors will never forget the sights and sounds of UCLA coach Mitch Henderson’s elimination. now the only person at Princeton to have won an NCAA tournament game as a player and coach, is in a unique position to understand both the historical implications and the immediate emotions. That’s why he quickly moved to place this year’s achievement in a singular category.

“I was the beneficiary of this game, along with my teammates, for a long time,” Henderson, who scored 8 points in that 43-41 win over UCLA a long time ago, said Thursday afternoon. “But I am the coach here. My charge, and I’m very present on this, is that I want this for them. It’s very, very simple. They did it today. They made so many people proud and happy today. They deserve it.”

He said the huge upheaval “feels a million times better as a coach”.

Slawson noted that Furman’s triumph over Virginia was only the second NCAA Men’s Tournament win in school history, following a 1974 victory over South Carolina.

“This team has done a great job making history all year,” Slawson said, and as games get harder every step of the way, programs of all shapes and sizes share a point. common in March: aim for the stars.

The goal for everyone is to keep those moments as long as possible, before the world turns around, the dream expires, and it’s time to pick up and start all over again, like in so many other aspects of life. Honor is in perseverance.

With March’s emotions now punctuating the rhythm of their lives, five male players from Princeton are working on their senior thesis. From Ryan Langborg (“The Effects of NBA Travel on Sleep”) to Evbuomwan (“Diversity in NBA General Management and How It Affects Team Performance”), articles are to be published in two weeks.

“There are no extensions,” Henderson said with a smile. “They have to get to work.

Survive and move on, indeed.


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