TEANECK, N.J. – You could call it a classic. That might be debatable. You would not have any argument, though, labeling the finish a classic. Fairleigh Dickinson defeated Princeton last Wednesday 89-85 in a contest that featured several momentum swings as both teams took turns enjoying eleven-point leads.
Princeton built their lead by early second half. FDU slowly chipped away. The formula was simple: attack the basket. “Good things happen when you go inside,” FDU coach Greg Herenda said. The Knights went on a scoring outburst the second half. They got to the line attempting free throws the final twenty minutes. Herenda could only study the stat sheet, commenting,“ We scored 64 second half points against Princeton. Think we entered the game scoring about 60 for the entire game.”
Over the course of the final five seconds, there were four free throws by FDU and a three-pointer by Princeton. In a few anxious moments the Knights held on. During those last few ticks of the clock, FDU fouled a three-point shooter and nearly fouled another who missed the three attempt at the buzzer. “I couldn’t get upset with the foul or near foul,” Herenda said. “Because those were plays made out of passion. Our kids showed so much of that in getting this win.”
A few days earlier, FDU hosted Lafayette. The Knights trailed early in the second half in a two-possession game. The full-court pressure employed by FDU saw the opposition literally run away en route to a victory. In simple terms Fran O’Hanlon’s club had a lethal inside/outside combination the Knights had no answer for. Entering the Princeton game, Herenda sensed a positive mindset.
“The Lafayette game gave us a taste of humble pie,” Herenda said. “They were good and defeated one of our conference’s best, Robert Morris by 26 at their place. Our kids just went back to practice and took the Lafayette game as a bump in the road.”
Herenda admitted losses to Columbia and Layayette prepared his team for Princeton. “All three play a similar style,” the coach said. “By time we lined up against Princeton, we were ready for what they would run against us.”
FDU was paced by sophomore Matt MacDonald’s career and game-high 29 points. Mustafaa Jones added 22. Princeton, with five players in double figures, saw sophomore forward Spencer Weisz earn team scoring honors with 18 points.
What does it mean to FDU? Another signature win under Greg Herenda. In his initial year at FDU, Herenda had people notice last year as the Knights upset both Rutgers and Seton Hall on the road. The victory over Princeton adds to the portfolio as Herenda’s rebuilding effort moves forward.
The FDU mentor saw his win as significant on and off the floor. “For Fairleigh Dickinson to defeat a school with the reputation, academic and athletic reputation of Princeton is really huge,” he said.
A few days later the Knights traveled to South Bend, Indiana. While another New Jersey school about 15 miles South of FDU made waves, the Knights could not do the same. NJIT defeated Michigan on the Wolverines’ home floor. The game brought widespread attention to Jim Engles and his Highlanders. FDU would not make it two eye opening upsets in a row. The Knights stayed within ten at the half but ultimately fell to Notre Dame 75-57.
The loss put the Knights at 3-4. For Herenda, improving daily and being ready for conference play, getting in the conference tournament (only the top eight qualify in the Northeast Conference) and getting a home game are goals. Playing tough non league competition is a means to that end. Grabbing a win or a few in the process makes it all the better.