SALT LAKE CITY — The momentum for Fairleigh Dickinson died as quickly as it had arrived. These things happen. The magic of the NCAA Tournament is all in the upsets.
This one had the magic of a toothache.
And then you wonder: Why did they play it?
Oh, yes. The Madness.
After FDU’s 87-49 loss to Gonzaga, Thursday at Vivint Arena, everything had come down to this: no miracles. Just four reporters were in the locker room after the game. It’s only a story if Goliath falls. Instead, Gonzaga unmasked the Knights in brutal fashion, sending them back on — and with — the red-eye. Fairy tales happen, especially in the NCAA Tournament, but so does real life.
“You know, we were talking about it earlier today. Everything is like in the blink of an eye,” said FDU sophomore Elyjah Williams. “But when you get down to it — and you’re practicing and you keep going from place to place — you have more and more memories that come in. So even though it’s fast, you definitely enjoy it. They’re things that you’ll take forever. Forty years down the road, you’ll always remember.”
Give FDU points for attendance. Can someone please waive their airline change fee? The Knights were in town approximately 10 minutes. After winning their play-in game on Tuesday, they arrived in Salt Lake in the wee hours of Wednesday. Thursday night they were up against the top seed in the Salt Lake West Region.
There is romance in stories of obscure schools taking down giants. It nearly happened in the first session on Thursday. New Mexico State almost took Auburn into overtime. Not so terribly long ago, mighty Gonzaga was the Hickory High of college hoops, a small program with big dreams. Now the Zags have been to the tournament 22 straight seasons. They were ranked No. 1 for five weeks this year.
As Gonzaga assistant Donny Daniels said Wednesday, the Bulldogs are now a major power. He went on to say his team is a Pac-12-level operation.
Thursday it looked like an NBA team.
Still, hopes soar for teams small and large in March.
The Knights were in just their sixth NCAA Tournament, having lost every game until their play-in win over Prairie View. After that, it was a night flight to Salt Lake and some quick shut-eye before appearing for Wednesday’s walk-through and media session.
“Want me to tell you the truth?” coach Greg Herenda said on Wednesday. “I had these severe cramps in the middle of the night and then I realized where I was and the cramps kind of went away, and I just looked out the window to see what the weather was like and I saw the mountains of Utah and everything went away.”
It’s not the might of the blue bloods, but the dreams of the modest teams that matter.
“So it’s really our shining moment,” Herenda said. “But we’re not here to shine; we’re here to win, and we’ve won one and we’re going to try to continue to win.”
His argument earlier in the week was that almost all the best players go so quickly to the NBA, the talent disparity between big programs and small ones has narrowed.
“We have problems for Gonzaga,” Herenda said, referencing the size difference between the teams. “Small is OK. And that’s what makes the game great.”
Small programs disrupting big ones?
“It’s not a reach,” Herenda said.
Oh yes it was.
The Zags roared to a 53-17 halftime lead. FDU was smaller and slower, but once the game began, a better description was “infinitely smaller" and “immeasurably slower.”
Gonzaga made a nice team from Fairleigh Dickinson University look like Fairly Disappointing University. It wasn’t about FDU’s cold streak as much as Gonzaga’s mean streak.5 comments on this story
After the game, in a quiet locker room, Williams was asked if he still believed in miracles.
“Always,” he said. “I mean because when you play a team that’s that good, and you play a team that’s projected to be better than you, you gotta believe in miracles. You gotta believe in yourself, and miracles come to those who stay faithful and stay as one. So I think that we always will believe in miracles.”
Earlier in the day, No. 12 seed Murray State beat No. 5 seed Marquette.
Miracles happen. This time it was for some other team, in some other place.