Prairie View, FDU open NCAA Tournament

Big Tournament

(AP) — Streaking Prairie View stares down FDU, wants ‘big dogs’ next

Prairie View A&M has turned the page since the calendar flipped to 2019, answering an 11-game losing skid by capping a scintillating 21-1 run, capped with its first tournament title in 21 years.

The Southwest Athletic Conference champion Panthers (22-12) aim to continue their good fortune on Tuesday when they battle Fairleigh Dickinson (20-13) in the NCAA Tournament West Region play-in game at Dayton, Ohio. The winner of the First Four contest advances to face No. 1 seed Gonzaga (30-3) on Thursday in Salt Lake City.

“We’re going to use that as a tune-up game, to play another team outside of our conference and then hopefully be victorious to play Gonzaga,” Prairie View A&M senior guard Gary Blackston told the Houston Chronicle. “We’ve won (21 of the last 22 games), we don’t really have a losing feeling right now, and we just want to continue to win. We just want to show the nation how hard we play.”

Blackston, who averaged team-high totals in points (15.2) and rebounds (7.0), joined SWAC Defensive Player of the Year Dennis Jones in scoring 17 points apiece as the Panthers won their 11th straight game with a 92-86 victory over Texas Southern on Saturday.

The win earned Prairie View A&M its second NCAA Tournament berth and first since 1998. It also marked the first time in the history of the program that it had swept the conference regular-season and tournament titles.

Junior forward Devonte Patterson (13.4 points) and junior guard Gerard Andrus (10.0) are also consistent contributors for the Panthers, who topped 20 wins for the first time in school history.

Andrus, who is shooting a team-best 36.4 percent from 3-point range, is feeling confident after Prairie View A&M defeated its opponents by an average of 17.4 points in seven games this month.

“We’re about to bust everybody’s bracket this year,” Andrus told the Houston Chronicle. “I wanted the big dogs, let’s get that out the way early. … We’re locked in.”

Fairleigh Dickinson locked in its second Northeast Conference Championship in the last four years with an 85-76 victory over Saint Francis (Pa.) on Tuesday.

NEC tournament Most Valuable Player Darnell Edge scored 21 points in that contest for the Knights, who rode an eight-game winning streak to the school’s sixth all-time berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Edge, a first-team all-conference selection, leads the team in scoring (16.4 points) and is one of five players averaging in double figures.

Fellow guards Jahlil Jenkins (13.5 points) and Xzavier Malone-Key (11.4) and forwards Mike Holloway Jr. (12.5) and Kaleb Bishop (10.1) are also consistent scorers on the team.

Coach Greg Herenda told NorthJersey.com that he is thrilled to square off against another No. 16 seed and go for the first tournament win in Fairleigh Dickinson history.

“I tell our team all the time that you will forever be judged by what you’re not supposed to do,” Herenda said. “We’re not supposed to do that here. That’s what we do. It would make history and we would put our program in another place. That’s our goal.”

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