FDU coach on injured senior's basket: 'It's a special moment'

SALT LAKE CITY -- Fairleigh Dickinson forward Nadi Beciri caught the pass, took a couple of dribbles, converted the transition layup, yelled in jubilation and sank into the waiting arms of his head coach, Greg Herenda, while an entire arena roared behind him.

It cut his team's deficit to 38.

"If you can get beat by 38 points and be euphoric and hug somebody, it's special, you know what I'm saying?" Herenda said moments later. "That's a hard thing to do -- be on national TV and get a little bit exposed and be in front of the camera, and then a guy cuts it to 38 and you're the happiest guy in the building. It's a special moment. Or is something wrong with me? I think it's something in between."

Fairleigh Dickinson was blown out by the No. 1-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs on Thursday in the opening round of the NCAA tournament -- the final score was 87-49 -- but Beciri's moment brightened the mood in what would've otherwise been a somber postgame locker room, both because of what he means and what it represented.

Beciri, a junior college transfer who was playing in his final game, had established himself among the Knights' most popular players despite scoring a combined 91 points through three seasons.

"He's like the Pied Piper," Herenda said. "He walks around and there's love and he's a great kibitzer, as my mother would say. He can talk, and you love him."

Beciri was going to be a rotation player this season, but a debilitating back injury struck in the second game and kept him out until he checked in with 1 minute, 34 seconds remaining in Thursday's game from Vivint Smart Home Arena. Beciri couldn't initially travel with the team. Often times he tried to jump and could hardly get off the ground.

He wasn't cleared to practice until the day before Fairleigh Dickinson's First Four matchup against Prairie View A&M, which ended in the first NCAA tournament victory in the program's history. One of the trainers informed Herenda prior to facing Gonzaga that it was finally safe for Beciri to play.

Herenda vowed to bring him in, but Beciri wasn't counting on it.

"This experience in itself is amazing," he said. "I just wanted to see my guys go out and play really hard."

Fairleigh Dickinson, the Northeast Conference champion, was making only the sixth March Madness appearance in the program's 50-plus-year history. But it was no match for Gonzaga, which shot 53 percent from the field, forced 17 turnovers and won the assist battle 22-8. Darnell Edge and Jahlil Jenkins, the two guards who make the Knights go, shot a combined 3-for-19 from the field.

With the game out of hand, Herenda decided to give Beciri his moment.

Beciri, who grew up rooting for Gonzaga, said it "meant everything" to get in. He called hitting that layup, and forever etching his name in NCAA tournament lore, "a dream come true."

"I don't think he knew where he was," Herenda said, laughing and perhaps even getting a little emotional. "Nadi Beciri, man -- he is going to be a very successful person. Write that name down. He's a business major, and a beautiful person. And if he sits down for an interview, he's got the job -- trust me."