Disney Magic! Owls roast Hokies to become ESPN Invitational Champs
It was complete utter dominance for the 19th-ranked Florida Atlantic men's basketball team on Sunday afternoon, blowing out the Virginia Tech Hokies 84-50 to win the 2023 ESPN Invitational Championship in Orlando.
"Extremely proud to bounce back after a tough week and come to a prestigious event like this and perform at the level our guys performed at with the unselfishness that they did. It is such a unique group where after the game if you asked me who were the three or four leading scorers of your team, I would have to look at a stat sheet," head coach Dusty May said.
Defense was the stat of the day for the Owls. After allowing 86 points to Butler and 89 to 12th-ranked Texas A&M, they only gave up 50 from Virginia Tech who shot an ice-cold 33% from the field and 12% from the three-point line. Guard Alijah Martin won the tournament's best player award, putting up 17 points, eight rebounds, and four assists on 5-9 shooting overall today. He averaged 18.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, two assists, and 1.7 steals at a 43.2% clip (38.5% from three) throughout the invitational.
"My teammates have always had faith in me, the coaching staff as well even though I was in a slump. It's still good, going into the next couple of games with my mojo back," Martin said.
FAU utilized the inside game to start, feeding the ball to center Vlad Goldin (pictured via Bob Markey II) for easy shots inside the paint to get him rolling early on. This foreshadowed the team's edge in that area, outscoring the Hokies 48-32 throughout the day.
While Virginia Tech kept the score close for most of the first half, the Owls went on a 7-0 run with buckets from Martin and Johnell Davis and center Vladislav Goldin.
This run continued to begin the second half, resulting in 19 unanswered points until the Hokies made a basket four minutes in. The Owls had another offensive explosion, scoring 15 consecutive points in a three-minute span. Virginia Tech had no answer, struggling to make their three-pointers for the entire game.
Guard Jalen Gaffney has fulfilled his role as a playmaker and ball handler spectacularly throughout the invitational. Playing a significant role during the Owls' scoring outbursts, he had a balanced stat-line of nine points, six rebounds, and six assists. He averaged 11.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 4.7 assists across all three games (including two starts) of the tournament.
"It's clearly obvious how he made everyone on the court better because he was out there. We have a lot of guys like that that are taking a backseat because they want to get in and do this together," May said.
The Owls dominated many aspects of the game against the Hokies. They won the rebounding battle 40-29, had twice the amount of assists (16-8), outscored them 16-2 in fast-break points, and swatted away five shots while Virginia Tech had none.
Goldin finished with 14 points, four rebounds, and three blocks on a perfect 7-7 shooting from the field. Davis had 12 points and seven rebounds, while Bryan Greenlee put up 10 points, five rebounds, and four assists.
"These guys are consumed with playing basketball the right way. They are a joy to coach and a joy to watch. Even though we had a road bump, these guys were unphased by that because it is all about the next thing. They always respond like this. Onto the next," May said.
The Owls will now return home to The Burrow at Boca Raton, getting ready to host the Field of 68 Classic for two matchups against the Liberty Flames on November 30th and Charleston Cougars on December 2nd. Both games will be broadcast on ESPNU at 6:00 PM.