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Davis, Boyd lead team effort to crucial road victory at North Texas

In the closing seconds of the first half Tuesday, North Texas guard Aaron Scott was fouled in midair by Alijah Martin as he launched a desperation shot from the other side of half court, actually from east of the super-sized logo of Texas.

A check of a real map shows the shot in fact came from an Arkansas town called Hope.

The Mean Green can look back today, after the Owls’ show-what-you’re-made-of second half delivered a significant 80-76 victory, and realize the Scott-Martin dustup might have been … well … their last best Hope. The way FAU played in the second half, they had little Hope.

Led by Johnell Davis and Nick Boyd—with noteworthy work also from Brenen Lorient among others—the Owls made almost all the right plays at all the right times in the last 13 1/2 minutes to preserve a slight lead in a game they needed to:

  • move closer to clinching the No. 2 seed in the American Athletic Conference next week in Fort Worth.
  • avoid a late-season nick to their NCAA at-large resume.

If stopping Davis wasn’t challenging enough for North Texas on a 29-point night, he got plenty of help in the second half. Davis, who hit two of FAU’s four 3-pointers in a 12-0 start, scored 21 of his team-high total in the first half. FAU trailed at the break 42-40, but Boyd scored all 13 of his points in the last 15 minutes and Lorient hit a critical 3-pointer and was a defensive force. Meanwhile, Martin built up his team-high rebound total to eight—earning a possible broken nose along the way—and also hit a key 3-pointer. And Vlad Goldin blocked shots and helped FAU keep one of the better offensive rebounding teams in the country off the glass when it mattered most.

Davis got help in the first half, too. In his most impactful game since returning from a knee injury, Giancarlo Rosado (pictured via UNT Athletics) scored all nine of his points before halftime.

“When you have to expend as much emotional energy as we do every night, you have to have different guys step up,” FAU coach Dusty May said afterward on the ESPN+ telecast.

Collectively those efforts boosted FAU to 23-7 overall and 13-4 in the AAC, a game up on Charlotte for the No. 2 seed with one game to play. By winning, the Owls also guaranteed themselves byes through the first two days of the tournament and time off until the quarterfinals next Friday—and a possible rematch against the Mean Green (16-13). They also maintained good standing in competition for NCAA at-large bids.

The second half was the product of team culture, Rosado told Ken LaVicka and Damon Arnette in a postgame radio interview. “We’ve just built off the perseverance and the standard we’ve set,” he said.

Beating the Mean Green in recent years isn’t easy anywhere, let alone in the Super Pit. But the Owls have four wins against them in the past two seasons including one that Davis delivered at The Elly in January with a last-second 3.

“The last couple of years, we’ve (talked) that, if you’re going to win a championship, North Texas is going to be involved and we have to find a way to beat them,” May said. “They’re as physical as any team in our league. They do such a good job of guarding the ball and knocking you off everything you’re trying to do.”

Translation: Score in transition whenever you can. And that’s exactly all the Owls did in the first three minutes. FAU drilled four 3-pointers in the early going (Martin and Brandon Weatherspoon joining in on the fun with Davis) to help FAU score the game’s first dozen points—and extend a run probably unique to visitors in the 50-year history of the Super Pit. That 12-0 run, coupled with the out-of-nowhere 13-0 run that closed out the Owls’ 50-46 win in December 2022, meant FAU had scored 25 straight points against the Mean Green.

Once North Texas was able to set its half-court defense and dig in, it more resembled the team ranked first in the AAC and seventh nationally in scoring defense after leading all of Division I in that category the previous two seasons. The game changed. Clean looks were harder to come by for FAU. And led by sophomore guard Jason Edwards, a first-team junior college All-American last year who finished with a game-high 32 points, the Mean Green caught up.

Defensive miscommunications gave Edwards and 3-point specialist John Buggs III too many open shots, May said. He categorized those errors under the same heading as Martin’s unwise challenge of Scott’s 55-foot heave, which, after Scott’s three free throws, flipped a one-point Owls lead into a two-point halftime deficit.

Whether the referees made the correct call—“I didn’t like it,” May said—was immaterial. Even if Martin was in Texarkana and didn’t actually foul Scott, May felt he was still too close and the whole thing could have been avoided—much like the mistakes in the halfcourt defense.

“We don’t have the margin for error to give away free baskets,” May said. “I thought we made three or four plays like that. A veteran team, an intelligent team like we have, we shouldn’t be making those errors this late in the season.”

But the Owls were not daunted by that last-second score, or by the fast North Texas start to the second half that the Mean Green in a brief 47-40 hole. They responded with 10 straight points.

“They came out and threw the first punch, and then we threw a couple of haymakers,” May said.

Martin actually took a haymaker early in the second half—actually an inadvertent elbow to the nose while going for a rebound, opening a cut on the bridge. But not only did he re-enter the game—he would hit a big 3 that doubled the Owls’ lead to 69-63 late—he didn’t back down from rebounding.

“I’ve said it from day one—his ability to rebound in traffic and get the basketballs that no one else on our team can get is extremely valuable,” May told radio listeners. “Of his eight rebounds, I thought five or six were real grown-man rebounds.”

Boyd was in the middle of FAU’s gaining and protecting the lead in the second half. His ability to drive and draw fouls sent him to the line nine times, where he made eight. He drove for contested layups on back-to-back possessions to put FAU on top to stay 56-53 with 13:18 left.

“Coming back from a subpar first half by his standards, I thought he was amazing getting to the rim, finishing though contact, drawing fouls,” May said. “He came in and quarterbacked us offensively for several minutes, and we needed every basket, every free throw.”

The Owls also needed every bit of what Lorient gave them, from accepting the defense’s dare and drilling a wide-open corner 3 with 10 minutes left to adding defensive agility that helped FAU both cover shooters and clear the boards.

“I thought the difference in the game was when Brenen came in, and we were a little bit bigger, and we were able to fly at shooters, force them to miss and get the rebounds,” May said.

Rosado’s continued edging back to pre-injury form was a big plus, too. Wearing a new brace, he moved about the court more confidently. For May—for all the Owls—that was a welcome sight.

“He had the look in his eye when he was out there, fighting, competing with his brothers,” May said.

But tying it all together was Davis, who finished 10-for-15 in his most efficient shooting game in a couple of weeks. He hit one 3 from the left wing, then another in the right corner off a feed from Weatherspoon.

“I saw the first two go in …” he said. From then on, everything was working, including his creative array of drives that on two occasions produced big baskets just before the shot clock expired. Significantly, he also had a team-high four assists.

“If we’re going to be our best, he’s probably going to have four or five assists on most nights,” May said on radio.

Davis is accepting of that role.

“Try to make the right play and get my guys going early and go from there,” he said.

Thanks to Davis and that strong second half, the Owls still control where they go from here.

First stop: Senior Day at The Elly on Saturday and a noon rematch with Memphis. The Tigers won’t be hard to spot—they’ll be the only ones not participating in the “red out.”

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