The first game of the 2019 NCAA tournament is in the books. Fairleigh Dickinson is advancing and Prairie View A&M is going home.
Behind a combined 55 points from Jahlil Jenkins and Darnell Edge, the Knights from the NEC took down the Panthers of the SWAC in Dayton, Ohio, capturing an 82-76 victory in the First Four on Tuesday.
The win marked the first time Fairleigh Dickinson had ever won an NCAA tournament game. They had been five times before — falling to Michigan in 1985, Purdue in 1988, UConn in 1998, Illinois in 2005 and Florida Gulf Coast in 2016.
Strong finish for Fairleigh Dickinson
The Knights trailed by as many as 13 points in this game and by seven points at halftime, but they clawed all the way back in the second half.
Beginning with a jumper from Jahlil Jenkins at the 5:07 mark in the second half, Fairleigh Dickinson went on a 14-3 run over the next four minutes. Prairie View missed six shots over that stretch, while the only shot that was off the mark for Fairleigh Dickinson was an Elyjah Williams free throw.
Prairie View eventually got back within a possession of the lead, but the cushion that Fairleigh Dickinson built up was too much. After a Gary Blackston three-pointer with 51 seconds to play, Mike Holloway Jr. connected on an easy lay-up in the paint, and then Edge sank two free throws to put the game on ice.
Hot start from behind the arc for Panthers
Fairleigh Dickinson took an initial 6-5 lead out of the gate, but a three-pointer from Gary Blackston at the 14:08 mark in the first half kickstarted a 14-0 run for Prairie View. The Panthers were able to keep a comfortable distance from the Knights for the remainder of the half by way of their superb shooting from outside.
Prairie View knocked down eight of 12 three-point attempts in the first half, good for a 66.7 percent clip.
Over the course of the season for the Panthers, their shooting performance from behind the arc in the first half of this game was an anomaly. When it came to three-point shooting, the Panthers were the 37th worst team in the country this year, knocking down 31.2 percent of their shots from that distance. They are the fourth-worst three-point shooting team in the NCAA tournament field, just behind Saint Louis, VCU and Duke.
The Panthers cooled off in the second half, making seven of 16 shots from outside, finishing the contest with a three-point shooting percentage of 53.6.
Block party for FDU
While the Panthers were successful from behind the arc in this game, the Knights owned the paint.
Fairleigh Dickinson won the rebounding battle 40-28, outscored the Panthers in the paint 38-18 and tallied eight blocks.
Blocking shots hasn’t been the Knights’ calling card this season. They’ve swatted away 128, good enough for 101st in the nation. Among NCAA tournament teams, the Knights are 40th in blocks.
Big game from Jenkins, Edge
After scoring just two points in the first half, Jahlil Jenkins bounced back in a big way in the second, pouring in 20 points to close the game.
Jenkins was one of two players that stepped up in a big way for the Knights. The other was senior Darnell Edge, who scored a season-high 33 points.
In addition to his scoring total, Edge also tallied two rebounds, two assists and a steal. Jenkins had four rebounds and six assists.
Holloway and Kaleb Bishop didn’t score in bunches, each notching 10 points, but both had double-doubles and led the way in rebounding and blocks. Holloway grabbed 14 boards and swatted away four shots, while Bishop had 11 rebounds and two blocks.
Congrats on winning your first ever NCAA tournament game, Knights.
Your reward: a game against No. 1 Gonzaga in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The Bulldogs are the top team in the country in offensive rating, true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage. They’ve scored 2,932 points this year, more than any other team in the country. Gonzaga is KenPom’s No. 2 team and the AP voters’ No. 4 team.
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And after losing the WCC title game to Saint Mary’s, the Bulldogs are hungry for a win and hope to start off their NCAA tournament off on the right foot.
Before last year, we would’ve said, “There’s no way a 16-seed can beat a No. 1,” but UMBC changed that.
Still, it’s a feat that is incredibly rare and difficult to pull off. Fairleigh Dickinson will have its hands full with Gonzaga, but another paint-dominating performance and another impressive game from Jenkins and Edge could make things interesting.
After all, this is March.
Mitchell Northam is a graduate of Salisbury University. His work has been featured at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Orlando Sentinel, SB Nation, FanSided, USA Today and the Delmarva Daily Times. He grew up on Maryland's Eastern Shore and is now based in Durham, N.C.