The Merrimack Warriors won the program’s first NEC Championship in just their fourth season at the Division I level by defeating Fairleigh Dickinson in a tightly contested 67-66 comeback victory Tuesday night.
While it was Fairleigh Dickinson’s Demetre Roberts who missed the last second buzzer beater to give Merrimack the win, it’ll be the Knights who earn their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2019 due to the NCAA’s (unfortunate) reclassification rules.
MERRIMACK WINS THE NEC TOURNAMENT‼️— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) March 8, 2023
Despite the win, Merrimack is ineligible to represent the conference in the NCAA tournament.
The team is in its fourth season of a four-year transition period to Division I. pic.twitter.com/YNBraztXVM
Instead of harping on the unfair situation for Merrimack, who won both the NEC regular-season and tournament titles and won’t be in the NCAA Tournament, I think it’s important to discuss this Fairleigh Dickinson team.
In just his first season at the helm of the Knights, head coach Tobin Anderson put together the NEC’s top offense with a roster and starting lineup that consisted of multiple Division II and NJCAA transfers.
Leading the way was Roberts, who followed Anderson from DII St. Thomas Aquinas. He averaged 16.7 PPG and 4.3 APG in his first season at the DI level. Roberts helped the Knights secure their spot in the NEC title game with a game-leading 18 points in the semifinals.
Sean Moore also followed Anderson from St. Thomas Aquinas and played a huge part in the Knights NCAA bid. He managing 18 points and seven rebounds in the quarterfinals and 10 points in the championship game loss.
Rounding out the trio of former St. Thomas Aquinas commits is Grant Singleton. He has proven to be an athletic scorer and the Knights main sharpshooter this year averaging 39% on 3-point attempts.
Throughout the NEC Championship, Singleton was an effective contributor, averaging 11.7 PPG across the three matchups. He fell just short of a double-double with 12 points and nine rebounds on day two.
Heru Bligen spent two season’s at Longwood, where he averaged 6.3 PPG as a sophomore. He then played at Garden City CC in Kansas and saw his production rise to 15.6 PPG.
While averaging just 7.8 PPG in his first season with Fairleigh Dickinson, Bligen has been a crucial piece in the Knights guard-heavy system this year and put up seven points and seven rebounds while shooting 75% in the team’s NEC Championship opener.
Behind this quartet, the Knights took down No. 7 St. Francis Brooklyn 83-75 in the quarterfinals before steamrolling No. 3 Saint Francis (PA) 70-50 in the semifinals to book that NEC Championship spot and subsequent NCAA bid.
In spite of being led by former DII and JuCo athletes, Anderson and the Knights showed they belong in the NEC with a high-powered offense that could easily create issues for any higher seeded program that dares to overlook Fairleigh Dickinson in March.