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Dunk you very much and treys bien! Owls rout Tulsa 102-70

All season, Florida Atlantic’s stated mission has been to round into March form by March. So far, February form isn’t bad.

Tulsa, a young team with an impatient streak that played into one of FAU’s greatest strengths, was no match Saturday night for an Owls team rested and reset after its bye week. The 20th-ranked Owls had great fun being all business as they more than doubled their previous widest American Athletic Conference victory spread, 102-70.

FAU joined the other two AAC co-leaders in separating themselves from the pack Saturday with impressive wins that moved each to 8-1. Charlotte won its eighth game in a row, by 15 points in the first AAC meeting with its longtime in-state rival East Carolina. South Florida won its sixth straight with a rare visitors win on North Texas’ home court. But the Owls (18-4 overall) may have outdone them both with their seventh straight.

At one end—at least in the first half, when they took control—the Owls played great on-ball defense against Tulsa’s high-scoring backcourt, resulting in one rushed-up 3 after another by lesser shooters, resulting in 13 missed 3s in a row (en route to missing 24 of 28 overall). At the other end, the Owls were relaxed and freewheeling almost throughout. The result was 29 points in transition, 10 3-pointers and 16 assists on 32 total field goals. FAU even hit 28 of 32 free throws—88 percent, almost 20 points higher than its season average.

“I thought our guys played with a lot of purpose tonight, and going forward that’s the way we have to be,” FAU coach Dusty May said.
Not only did the 32-point difference easily surpass the 15-point spread over East Carolina in the conference opener before the Owls’ loss at Charlotte. In regulation time during the winning streak (excluding the overtime at UTSA), FAU won those six games by a total of 39 points. If the Owls starters were laughing and backslapping on the bench in the latter stages Saturday, they were entitled.

“It took a lot of the pressure off—the coaches and us,” said Johnell Davis, who wasn’t needed this time to hit three free-throws to force overtime or sink another last-second game-winner. He did, however, score 24 points in just 26 minutes, and on just 12 shots.

“I’ll be honest, he looked really quick, really, really fast,” May said.

Davis wasn’t the only one, as all five rested-and-refreshed starters scored in double figures. Vlad Goldin was next with 18, winning a team dunk-a-thon that highlighted FAU’s 40 points in the paint. Then came Alijah Martin with 16 (plus a team-high nine rebounds), Nick Boyd with 13 and Bryan Greenlee with 11. Reserve Tre Carroll just missed joining them, finishing with nine points.

May was happy with the results of the practice plan he and his staff mapped out for the Owls’ six-day break since their last-second win over North Texas. He had options.

“It was a tough balance,” May said. “Do we add? Do we subtract, or do we take some time (off)? … But we just decided to go a little more mild every day and in smaller chunks. But I thought we looked fast, I thought we looked athletic.”

In addition to Davis individually, May singled out Goldin, who hit seven of 10 shots and “looked as healthy as he has since before Christmas.” Goldin (shown via Bob Markey II) injured his leg mid-game against Arizona on Dec. 23, and while he came to finish that game and play his usual minutes in the 10 games since, he hasn’t always been himself. Not coincidentally, the Owls haven’t always been themselves defensively.

 “Now that he’s getting healthy, I can say it, but when you look at our defensive metrics before the Arizona game and after the Arizona game, and it’s two completely different teams. The only difference is Vlad was a little banged up,” May said.

“We probably should have tried to hold him (out of) a couple games, but he adds so much value to our team we couldn’t afford to because we’re chasing at-larges, we’re chasing the metrics, we’re chasing all this other stuff. He stayed the course.”

Five of Goldin’s seven baskets Saturday were dunks—including FAU’s first two baskets of the night.

“My teammates find me open shots and I just enjoy finishing them,” Goldin said.

Davis, Brandon Weatherspoon and Brenen Lorient also had dunks. The Owls had a couple missed dunks, too, including one deep in the blowout portion of the second half from Greenlee that earned him teasing from the boss for not getting the lift.

“I told him Zane (Scott), our strength coach, does an unbelievable job but he’s making him look bad,” May grinned.

A couple points here about Greenlee.

1.)  Weatherspoon rebounded the missed dunk and seconds later, Greenlee was taking a feed from Jalen Gaffney and making up for the dunk with a 3-pointer. (“So in character with our team,” May said.)

2.) Greenlee, along with Boyd—as well as Martin and Weatherspoon on switches—all but silenced Tulsa guards PJ Haggerty and Cobe Williams in the first half. Haggerty, the leading freshman scorer in Division I with a 19.5 average, finished with a game-high 25 on 10-for-16 shooting, but in the first half he managed just five shots and hit just two for five points. Williams, a familiar foe having transferred from old Conference USA rival Louisiana Tech, also did most of his damage when it made no impact, scoring 14 of his 16 after halftime. The Owls shut Williams out on 3s, ending a 10-game stretch in which he’d hit multiple shots from behind the arc.

In the first half, the Owls pulled off no easy trick by limiting the Tulsa guards from driving while also minimizing and contesting outside looks.

“I thought we did a nice job at the point of attack, stopping the ball, having the gaps, having intensity off the ball,” May said.

The result was 3-point misses by seven different players in the first half while FAU was grabbing rebound after rebound and racing from an early 10-6 deficit to a 40-27 halftime lead. In their previous road game at Wichita State, the Golden Hurricane had rallied from 15 points back to win their first game away from home in 707 days. They were still within 17 with about 10 1/2 minutes left when FAU busted things open with a 10-0 run. The second half got ugly on a couple of occasions when two Golden Hurricanes were called for flagrant fouls when first Goldin, then Weatherspoon were leveled.

If the Golden Hurricane were frustrated in the second half, the Owls looked to be having the time of their lives.

“Every game is fun to play. We just have to remember that’s why we do it,” Goldin said. He added he and May had a conversation Saturday morning on that very topic.

“We found something in common why we play this game, why he coaches this game—just have fun,” Goldin said.

A few times Saturday, May was expressing his “fun” in unusual ways. He was quicker off the bench and more direct with players than in earlier game when he saw something he didn't like. He was up a lot in the first half, when FAU committed eight of its 11 turnovers, but he didn't let up even after the Owls had taken charge. Though probably with milder language, it was almost as if he were channeling a certain coach he learned from as a student manager, a coach who (like May on Saturday) used to wear red.

“I spent all week preaching this needs to be fun and we need to have fun, and I think I was just trying to ruin the fun,” he grinned.

Then he got serious. March is not far off. Slippage—even with a big lead—with a big lead is never cool, but especially not now.

“We just have such high standard, and I don’t ever want us to play the scoreboard,” he said. “There’s a way we believe this game should be played. And we have to be determined to play that we’re building habits and rituals that will work in March against the best teams. I’m going to be very, very stubborn. If we feel as a staff we’re drifting away from our standards and our baseline, then I’m going to be a little more animated. I don’t think we play any better when I’m animated (and) I don’t think we play any worse. We have great ownership in our locker room and these guys want to do the right thing so a lot of times it’s simply being reminded.”

The Owls are off until Thursday, when they visit UAB.

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