For the first time in Florida Atlantic’s history, the Owls are dancing into the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament thanks to a 79-76 win over No. 3 Kansas State at Madison Square Garden Saturday.
“It’s extremely rewarding to see a group give as much as these guys have all season,” FAU coach Dusty May said. “Shots, playing time, everything you could imagine, 100% every day in practice and then be rewarded because there’s never a guarantee. In this era where everybody wants the whole pie, these guys continued sharing every single day, and this was the result.”
The Owls got it done against the Wildcats in similar fashion to their Round of 64, Round of 32, and Sweet 16 victories, in a game of back-and-forth runs. There were 12 lead changes and seven ties.
May and Co. opened up strongly and went into the locker room with a 42-38 lead. However, Kansas State led by Markquis Nowell, finally got going early in the second half and took a 49-47 at the first media timeout. The Wildcats led 57-50 by the second break on the back of forcing six early turnovers.
It looked like the Wildcats might run away with this matchup as Nae’Qwan Tomlin managed a momentum shifting and-one out of the under-12 media timeout followed by a huge block on Vlad Goldin. Bryan Greenlee drained a massive 3-pointer to respond, and of course Nowell notched a 3-ball of his own to let the game of runs begin.
By the under-eight break, the Owls had climbed within one on the back of four different contributors now with double figures. The Owls scored eight straight while the Wildcats went scoreless for 4:39, and FAU took a 65-63 lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
With Keyontae Johnson and David N’Guessan both fouling out for Kansas State, the Owls saw it out at the charity stripe with nine points on free throws in the last four minutes.
While Nowell led all scoring with 30 points and 12 assists, it was Alijah Martin leading the way for the Owls with 17 points. Greenlee managed 16 points, and Johnell Davis tallied 13. Goldin tallied a 14 point, 13 rebound, double-double.
According to May, this team doesn’t see itself as a “Cinderella” and has what it takes to finish this magical run off.
“This is a player-led team,” he said. “These guys have made each other better every single day. It wasn’t just the games, it was workouts, practices, weight sessions, film sessions. These guys are committed to being great.”
With that, the Owls will head to Houston for the Final Four where they’ll face the winner of No. 5 San Diego State and No. 6 Creighton.