Brayden Reynolds knew he had a role to play.
After Fairleigh Dickinson forward Sean Moore drained a 3-pointer over the outstretched arms of 7-foot-4 Purdue center Zach Edey that gave his team a 61-56 lead with 1:03 left in Friday night’s NCAA tournament first-round game in Columbus, Ohio, Reynolds immediately began to encourage his teammates from his spot on the Knights’ bench.
A 2021 Chartiers Valley graduate, Reynolds said he was sure he and his No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson team were on the verge of history against the tournament’s No. 1-seeded Boilermakers.
“I knew when Fuzz hit that 3 that we were probably going to win that game, so that was going through my head on the bench,” Reynolds said. “Me, personally, I try to be a vocal leader even though I’m a freshman and I’m a walk-on.”
Reynolds said he began urging his teammates to remain focused, and play “as hard as we possibly can.”
When the final buzzer eventually went off and Fairleigh Dickinson secured a 63-58 victory against Purdue to become the second No. 16 seed in tournament history to defeat a No. 1 seed, Reynolds said the gravity of what his team had accomplished immediately sank in.
“This is probably the coolest moment of my life,” said the 6-foot-1 guard Friday night. “It’s historic, the second time only ever being done. It’s awesome.”
The University of Maryland-Baltimore County became the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985 when it upset Virginia in 2018.
It took just five years for Fairleigh Dickinson to join UMBC’s ranks.
The Knights advance to play No. 9 seed Florida Atlantic, which defeated No. 8 seed Memphis, 66-65, Friday night in Columbus. It was the first NCAA tournament victory for Florida Atlantic.
“We know that this next coming game isn’t going to be any easier,” Reynolds said. “So we know we have to come out and play hard and play with the same kind of intensity we did against Purdue.”
Reynolds failed to score in 12 minutes against the Boilermakers and was 0 for 1 from the field. He also played 12 minutes and scored 4 points in Fairleigh Dickinson’s 84-61 First Four victory against Texas Southern Wednesday night in Dayton, Ohio.
The Knights automatically qualified for the NCAA postseason by advancing to the Northeast Conference tournament championship game, which it lost to Merrimack, 67-66.
Fairleigh Dickinson was granted the automatic tournament bid because Merrimack is in its probationary period upon becoming a member of the NEC.
“It’s awesome to be a part of this team,” Reynolds said. “This is exactly why I came here because I knew coach had full trust in me. I’m just taking advantage of having the opportunity to play and help this team out.”
Reynolds enjoyed a fantastic career at Chartiers Valley, leading the Colts to the WPIAL Class 5A championship game as a senior. He scored 24.9 points per game in 2021, which was good for the fifth-best average in the WPIAL. The versatile guard also shot 51% from the field and made 58 3-pointers as a senior, while averaging 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals a game.
“I would say playing at Char Valley I always got put on the big stage,” Reynolds said. “I always had the bright lights put on me. Even coming here, it didn’t really bother me. The bright lights never really bothered me since I was little.
“It’s all about finding a way to win,” he added, “but playing at Char Valley definitely helps.”
Despite being accepted at West Point and receiving recruiting interest from UMass-Lowell, Reynolds transitioned after his tenure at Chartiers Valley to a post-graduate season at Western Reserve Academy in Hudson, Ohio.
“Honestly, I was really under recruited because of COVID and [Fairleigh Dickinson coach Tobin] Anderson recruited me for 2½ years,” said Reynolds, who committed to play for the Knights in June.
“I came up on a visit. Coach Anderson told me, ‘Listen, I don’t have any scholarships for you, but I want you on this team.’”
In his first season at Fairleigh Dickinson, Reynolds has averaged 1.6 points in 10.4 minutes per game. He also has 28 rebounds, 29 assists, 12 steals and 1 block.
Reynolds said he is grateful to Western Reserve Academy coach Pete Hutchins for developing him and helping to find him a spot on the Knights roster.
“He said, ‘You’re going to find a great place and great school no matter where you end up,’” Reynolds recalled Hutchins telling him. “They were fortunate enough to get me in here with coach and now I’m happy. There’s no words.”
Reynolds wasn’t the only former WPIAL standout to play in Friday night’s game.
Purdue guard Ethan Morton, a 6-foot-7 junior, graduated from Butler in 2020. He played 17 minutes against Fairleigh Dickinson, contributing no points, with 1 rebound, 1 assist and 1 steal.
Morton averaged 3.8 points and 2.9 rebounds per game for the Big Ten champion Boilermakers this season.