Florida Atlantic trailed visiting Florida International for 39:56 on Saturday tonight at FAU Arena.
But in the most improbable of endings, the Owls (18-7, 10-1) mounted a furious comeback during the waning moments to defeat the Golden Panthers 73-72 and improve to 9-2 at home.
“This was all about character. The guys did not panic. This was a huge, huge victory”, Head Coach Mike Jarvis said of the win.
Florida International (9-14, 4-7) knocked down four straight three pointers to begin the game, prompting a 12-1 lead while leaving FAU and a near capacity crowd of 2,961 fans stunned.
The Golden Panthers connected on 66.7% of their attempts from behind the arc in the first half.
FAU would eventually close the gap to a single digit, but shoddy ball handling thereafter helped the Golden Panthers to a 35-29 advantage at intermission.
With the Owls continuing to struggle defensively, FIU built a double digit margin once again at 57-45 behind Marvin Roberts basket at the 9:36 mark of the second half.
It wouldn’t matter though, as offense would reign supreme in the end.
Down 70-63 with just 1:09 left to play, Shavar Richardson’s back-to-back three pointers changed the atmosphere of a contest that had been characterized by a dominant performance from the visiting team.
“We’ve been waiting for Shavar Richardson to knock down a couple of threes in a row, and he did at the most opportune time”, Jarvis said.
Ray Taylor then added two at the line before Brett Royster laid in a feed from Alex Tucker with just :04 left; completing a 10-2 run that gave FAU their third straight win over the southern rival.
Last season in the Sun Belt tournament, Royster faulted when provided the opportunity to win a game in similar fashion against South Alabama. However, he found redemption in clutch fashion on Saturday.
“I know he thought about that all summer...this is the play that can put that behind him. He was great tonight”, said Jarvis.
Greg Gantt, who was one of four Owls in double figures, sank a game high 19 points. He was joined by Royster (18), Richardson (14), and Taylor (10).
Kore White was held scoreless for the second time in the last three contests.
FIU also saw four players in double digits, and was paced by Phil Taylor’s (16).
Florida Atlantic next hits the trail for a showdown with Western Division leader Denver (11-12, 7-3) this Thursday at 9:00 p.m. The game can be seen on FSN Rocky Mountain.