TUCSON, Ariz. — Fairleigh Dickinson held its own early against one of the best teams in college basketball.
Once No. 5 Arizona got rolling, the Knights had no way of stopping them.
Sidney Sanders Jr. had 16 points and Matt MacDonald added 11, but Fairleigh Dickinson couldn’t keep up with the Wildcats in a 100-50 loss in the opener of the NIT Season Tip-Off on Monday night.
“They’re obviously a Final Four team,” MacDonald said. “For us, since we are so young, we need to focus on getting better and take some good out of this game.”
Arizona (4-0) needed a little bit of a kick start after allowing the Knights to keep it close early.
Once the Wildcats got rolling, they kept going.
Led by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and T.J. McConnell, Arizona reeled off runs of 18-3 and 18-2 to build a 37-point halftime lead.
Arizona didn’t let up, either, shooting 54 percent, making 10 of 19 from 3-point range and outrebounding FDU 50-20, including 20 offensive rebounds that led to 27 second-chance points.
Gabe York scored a career-high 20 points and Nick Johnson added 16. Hollis-Jefferson finished with 13 points, McConnell had nine assists with one turnover, and Aaron Gordon overcame a poor shooting night to score 10 points with 10 rebounds.
The Wildcats move on to face Rhode Island on Tuesday night with a trip to the semifinals at Madison Square Garden on the line.
Not a bad way for Sean Miller to become the fifth coach to win 100 games at Arizona.
“To play a game with only five turnovers is outstanding,” Miller said. “We made great decisions. That’s a great sign early in the year.”
Fairleigh Dickinson (1-3) held its own early, standing up to the bigger, more athletic Wildcats and their revolving door of interchangeable players.
The Knights didn’t have enough to keep up once Arizona got rolling, helpless as the Wildcats dropped in a barrage of 3-pointers, dunks and putbacks to double the score.
Fairleigh Dickinson moves on to face Metro State at McKale Center on Tuesday night.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” FDU coach Greg Herenda said. “Sean is a great coach and Arizona shot the ball well. They don’t really have a weakness, but they exploited some of our weaknesses.”
Arizona followed easy opening wins over Cal Poly and Long Beach State by passing its first test of the season, winning 69-60 at San Diego State on Thursday.
Fairleigh Dickinson had been outscored by an average of 25 points in 11 straight losses to ranked opponents since 1996 and had lost 10 straight overall on the road after falling 74-60 at Hartford on Friday.
The Knights didn’t seem intimidated by the opponent or playing in one of college basketball’s most difficult road venues in the early going, though, aggressively driving to the basket and confidently pulling up for 3-pointers.
Sanders, FDU’s 5-foot-11 point guard, repeatedly took his man off the dribble to get to the rim, scoring eight points in the first 5 minutes to keep the Knights tied at 10.
“I was proud of how our team came out after the first two TV timeouts,” Herenda said. “I think we were even tied after the first one and we were competitive.”
Then Hollis-Jefferson took over.
The left-hander wasn’t quite as heralded as teammate Aaron Gordon coming in, but was still one of the nation’s best incoming freshmen.
Hollis-Jefferson showed off his all-around game against FDU, blocking a shot, scoring on hard drive and hustling to keep another possession alive with two rebounds. He followed with a soaring rebound slam, then put Arizona up 25-13 on a three-point play by getting an off-balance shot to fall after being hit on a drive.
Then it was McConnell’s turn.
He set up York for a 3-pointer with a baseline drive-and-kick, had a steal that led to a tomahawk dunk by York and set up another basket with a no-look pass in transition.
McConnell and Hollis-Jefferson punctuated the first half together: An alley pass from the point guard to the freshman, who brought the crowd to its feet with a dunk over FDU’s Mathias Seilund.
Hollis-Jefferson had 11 points, McConnell had five assists and Arizona led 51-24 after making 18 of 32 shots.
“It’s great to play when you’ve got it going on, your teammates are pushing it for fast-break dunks, transition 3s,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “All those plays are great; you want to have plays like that. It’s great to see us playing like that”