DAYTON, Ohio – Greg Herenda’s harrowing tale, of fighting for his life in a San Antonio hospital bed less than a year ago, of blood clots and high fever and the long road back, gave a face to Fairleigh Dickinson basketball this week and backdrop to the first game of the 2019 NCAA tournament.
His team fought, too. Fought a red-hot Prairie View A&M team that used a 14-0 run in the first half – while holding the Knights scoreless for a stretch of 7:11 – to assume control of a battle of West Region No. 16 seeds in a First Four game at University of Dayton Arena. Fought its own miscues, most notably damaging turnovers.
Fought all the way to Salt Lake City and a Thursday date with No. 1 seed Gonzaga. The Panthers led for most of the nights and by double digits for a lot of that time, but sophomore point guard Jahlil Jenkins put on a dazzling display in the second half to spearhead an 82-76 win for the Knights – their first ever in the NCAA tournament.
Jenkins had 20 of his 22 points in the second half – crossover dribbles, tough floaters and acrobatic drives included – and senior guard Darnell Edge was a force throughout with a game-high 33 points for Fairleigh Dickinson. Senior big man Mike Holloway Jr. deserves a nod as well for his interior work – 10 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks to help the Knights to their first NCAA win in their sixth attempt.
This trip to Dayton couldn’t have been more different than the last one, in 2016, a 31-point loss to Florida Gulf Coast in a First Four game. This was an impressive display of resilience from Herenda’s team, which let things get interesting in the waning seconds – allowing a 4-point play and another long three to let an 8-point lead shrink to 2 – before Elyjah Williams calmly found Holloway for a layup to clinch it.
Gary Blackson had 26 points for the Panthers, who went nuts from 3-point range, making 15 of 28 attempts. That was not enough, not with Fairleigh Dickinson shooting 68 percent from the floor (17-for-25) in the second half.
Herenda lifted two clenched fists in celebration to the Knights fans in the crowd and delivered some hearty hugs on his way to the locker room of a packed arena. Fairleigh Dickinson faces a much tougher test to double its all-time NCAA wins, but Gonzaga has two gifted guards to scout in Edge and Jenkins.