A few thoughts: FAU 84, Virginia Tech 50
Remember how FAU gave up so many lethal second-chance points to Bryant by failing to close out good defensive possessions with defensive rebounds?
Talk about the Owls' 5-for-30 three-point shooting in that loss all you want, but the misses at the other end that night might end up as the biggest outlier for FAU all season.
The Owls' 84-50 rout of Virginia Tech for the ESPN Events Invitational title Sunday was a display of how things are supposed to work in the minds of FAU coaches. Not only did the Owls play stifling defenseŚholding the proficient three-point shooters in the Tech starting lineup without a three (and not allowing any until 3:25 remained on the game clock while up by 37)Ś-they made the Hokies pay for those misses. FAU gave up only six second-chance points all afternoon, and four came before FAU asserted itself in the last four minutes of the first half.
From the 3:17 mark of the first half until the 16:40 mark of the second, the Owls increased a 25-24 lead to 42-24. Over that time excluding turnovers, Virginia Tech missed 10 straight shots. Here's the rebounding tally under the Hokies basket in that stretch: Florida Atlantic guards 9, Vlad Goldin 1, Virginia Tech 0.
After a so-so start, FAU ended up outrebounding the Hokies 40-29 overall and 34-4 under the Hokies basket.
The way FAU usually is set up on defense, guard rebounding is essential, and Sunday the guards did the job. Alijah Martin, who led the Owls in scoring with 17 points, also led in rebounds with eight. Johnell Davis (12 points) had seven, Jalen Gaffney (nine points) had six, Bryan Greenlee (10 points) had five, not to mention four assists and a team-high three steals in 24 minutes.
Gaffney (pictured via Bob Markey II) had three rebounds in those last 3 1/2 minutes of the first half while the Owls were finishing off the half with their 7-0 run. That was just one snapshot of tournament-long excellence from the senior guard, who had to shoulder more responsibility at point with Nick Boyd out injured and Greenlee's minutes limited by a foot condition. Gaffney, who transferred to FAU from UConn before the 2022-23 campaign began, has subordinated his own game since coming to Boca Raton to blend his skills in with the team. Asked to do more the past three games, he delivered and then some. Sunday, he hit four of seven shots, led the team in assists with six and posted an astounding plus-40 in his 34 minutes. That means FAU outscored Virginia Tech by 40 points while Gaffney was on the floor. He also committed exactly zero turnovers.
In three games in Orlando, the last two as starter, Gaffney averaged over 32 minutes, 11.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 5 assists. He hit 12-of-21 shots overall, including 5-of-8 threes, and all six of his free throws.
"Man, he's taught a lot of guys in our program how to play the game better at a higher level," Coach Dusty May told Ken LaVicka in their postgame radio interview.
Boyd apparently will still be out when the Owls return Thursday at home against 5-0 Liberty in the opener of the three-game, three-team round robin that brings together the three most successful mid-major teams from last season (Charleston being the third team). There's no let-up in the schedule, even for a team that defeated three Power 5 teams (two likely high-seed NCAA teams) and throttling the last one.
Even so, the past three games have been some rebound for FAU since the Bryant loss.
And Sunday, it was some rebounding.