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Florida Atlantic did not go head first into the muddy mosh pit that is Tennessee basketball, but it left the sand on the beach and stuck its toe in the dirt enough.
Then the Owls flew away with a 62-55 victory Thursday night in New York City to advance to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
No. 9 seed FAU (34-3) will play No. 3 seed Kansas State (26-9) on Saturday in the NCAA East Regional championship game in Madison Square Garden for the right to advance to the Final Four next week in Houston.
FAU is in the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in history after a 2002 appearance and is 3-1 all-time.
The Owls have the nation’s most wins because of their finesse, 3-point prowess, which has scored 30 percent of their points this season. But they struggled from beyond the arc through much of the game and trailed by as many as nine in the first half and by 27-22 at the half.
So FAU in the end matched Tennessee’s tough play inside despite an obvious height and weight advantage to the burly Vols (25-11). The Owls got dirty and outrebounded the Vols 40-36 and scored inside when they needed to. FAU continually made the extra pass and spread out the Vols away from the rim. This led to a critical 12 offensive rebounds.
“It feels great to go to battle with these guys every day,” FAU coach Dusty May said. “They love to compete. They love the game. They love each other.”
Florida Atlantic Matched Tennessee’s Physical Play
May said he would have to study Australian rugby last Sunday to prepare for Tennessee, which pushed Duke around in a second-round win to advance to the round of 16.
Guard Johnell Davis led FAU with 15 points and added six rebounds. Guard Nicholas Boyd scored 12 points with eight rebounds. And guard Michael Forrest added 11 points off the bench. Forrest’s 3-pointer with 9:49 to play put the Owls up 41-39. That was their first lead since 3-2.
Tennessee’s poor offense that plagued the Vols throughout the season showed up. The Vols’ two leading scorers – Josiah-Jordan James and Jonas Aidoo each scored only 10 points. Tennessee’s leading rebounders, the 6-11 Aidoo and Santiago Vescovi had just seven apiece.
FAU embarked on a 16-2 run in the second half to go up by 51-41 and held on.
The Owls Must Stop Kansas State’s Markquis Nowell Next
The Owls’ reward, though, will be Kansas State point guard Markquis Nowell. The senior from Harlem scored 20 points with an NCAA Tournament record 19 assists and five steals in the Wildcats’ 98-93 win over No. 7 Michigan State in overtime in an earlier game.
Nowell ran off the court saying, “This is my city.”
His Twitter handle is @MrNewYorkCityy, and Nowell was born on Christmas Day, 1999.
One CommentLeave a Reply
Good. Eternal misfortune to the vols.