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FAU falls to Temple in AAC Semis, Coach May remains confident in NCAA Tourney hopes

What was shaping up as the shortest day of the basketball season for Florida Atlantic instead—shockingly—has become the longest.

Temple, the 11th seeded team in the American Athletic Conference tournament, will play for championship on Sunday instead of 2 seed FAU after a 74-73 upset that is reverberating throughout the NCAA Tournament selection process.

Temple (16-19), which fell to FAU in the regular season at the end of a 10-game losing streak, now counts FAU as the latest victim in an improbable five-game winning streak. The last four have come in the last four days. And so now the Other Owls will be regrouping for a championship game against UAB that will tip off just 19 hours after this one ended.

FAU (25-8) would love to be in that position, but now can only wait like everyone else for the NCAA to reveal its tournament pairings early Sunday evening. Most experts still believe FAU will receive an at-large bid. Temple’s NET ranking of 198 notwithstanding, FAU coach Dusty May is firmly among them.

“We’ll try to find an earlier flight home, get back, rest and regroup—and not forget that a lot of work, blood, sweat and tears put us in position to still be playing,” May said. “It’s an honor, and this group is special, and so we have another opportunity to compete for a championship.”

The game will be talked about for how it ended—Temple’s Shane Dezonie missing two free throws with 7 seconds left, Johnell Davis (pictured via AAC/ Cos Lymperopoulos) rebounding the second miss, then pushing upcourt, then driving the left side and instead of shooting, misconnecting with Brenen Lorient on a drop-off pass into a crowded lane.

FAU fans, though, won’t soon forget the fulcrum sequence much earlier in the half that swung the game from FAU’s control to Temple’s. It was a real poke in the eye.

The play began with FAU leading 42-34 and Davis missing a 3-pointer. Alijah Martin overran Temple's Matteo Picarelli at the arc, giving him time to set himself and fire an open 3. Vlad Goldin arrived belatedly to try to harass the shot and inadvertently caught Picarelli in the face with a finger as the shooter was following through. Inadvertent contact like that generally is adjudicated as a common foul.

“I didn’t mean to touch him,” Goldin said. “And it was like—I didn’t pay attention to him. I didn’t mean to.”

But after checking the replay, the officials apparently concluded differently and upgraded the foul to a flagrant 1, turning an and-1 into an and-2 and also entitling Temple to keep possession after the free throws. Picarelli hit both free throws to make it a five-point play and counting. And when Jordan Riley rebounded and laid in Sam Hofman’s missed 3, FAU’s lead was down to 1. When the first timeout of the second half arrived shortly thereafter—just over 5 minutes in—the game was tied and Temple had outscored FAU 21-13.

When Hofman took a behind-the-back drop-off pass at the arc behind the free-throw line and bounced in a 3-pointer high off the rim, Temple had a 55-50 lead. After Brandon Weatherspoon missed a 3, Dezonie drove for a layup and it was 57-50, moving May to call timeout as the Owls’ stretch without a field goal ticked past six minutes.

All of that followed Temple’s seven-point trip.

“It obviously was crucial at that point in the game to have seven points in one possession, and not only that, but it gives them momentum,” May said.

That sequence validated everything Temple coach Adam Fisher preached at halftime, when his team trailed by only eight despite hitting only 9 of 30 shots.

“It’s about staying together,” Fisher said. “ ‘Hey, we’re going to make some adjustments,’ and we talked about those adjustments at halftime. It’s easy to say it. It’s really hard to execute, and these guys did it, and that’s why I’m so proud of them. We were, I thought, elite communicators today.”

In May’s mind, the seven-point sequence also was the kind of circumstance to which FAU had left itself vulnerable. Yes, FAU controlled the first half. But inefficient offense kept Temple close enough to be optimistic its tournament magic could continue. And that it did. After going just 4-for-11 from the arc in the first half, Temple found one open shot after another and hit 8-of-13 in the second.

FAU, meanwhile, was just 3-for-17 overall from beyond the arc.

The Owls also managed just two offensive rebounds—which led to a mere single second-chance point—committed 14 turnovers (many unforced) and, in a stat May values practically above all others, managed 10 fewer shots than Temple.

“I thought we had a lot of really good looks against the zone,” May said. “Maybe they’re out of rhythm, I’m not sure. But when we don’t shoot well and then our defense is, I won’t say soft, but needed to be more physical, and when we give up the percentage we did from 3, it’s not a recipe for success.”

But May also credited Temple, which beginning Wednesday defeated UTSA, SMU and Charlotte to reach the semis.

“They just played better longer,” he said. “They hung around in the first half when things weren’t going great for them, much like against Charlotte. And then in the second half, they knocked down a few, and when their centers make a few 3s, then defenses have a tendency to overreact at times, and then their guards were able to get to their spots (for) step-backs and shoot from deep. They played really, really well and made big plays.”

Guards Hysier Miller and Riley led Temple with 21 and 16 points. Miller hit five 3-pointers, Riley two.

For FAU, Goldin equaled his career high with 23 points and Davis finished with 18 despite not getting started until the final minute of the first half.

Goldin, though, was on the bench after an offense-defense switch when Dezonie went to the line, Temple’s six-point lead having shrunk from six with 45 seconds left to one after Davis drew a foul shooting a 3 and connected on all three free throws.

May had the option of taking a timeout after Davis rebounded and reinserting Goldin. But then he saw Davis barreling down and finding an opening to the basket, which usually leads to good things.

“In my mind, I thought they would leave B-Lo (unblocked) and he would get a tip-in,” May said.

Lorient might have thought so, too. But Davis got pushed a bit toward the baseline and, instead of shooting, tried to pass to Lorient, who could not react before the pass landed on the floor among a thicket of players and Miller recovered it for Temple. It was the last of his four steals.

In no way was May going to second-guess Davis.

"I trust these guys, man. Everyone in our locker room we have trust and respect for. We got to the rim down one. It's just one possession in an 80-possession game."

Meanwhile, as he dove for the ball, Miller was thinking only one thing:

"Don’t call a foul,” he said. “Because sometimes when you dive on the ground at guys’ feet, you roll up on somebody’s ankle (and) they can easily call a foul.”

That’s how the game ended. That’s how Temple’s tournament run continued. And it’s how FAU’s season was placed on pause for a day.

“I think every single team in the country … your goal is to make the NCAA Tournament,” May said. “There’s 360 teams now, (and) 68 get in. So we’re confident that we’re going to be one of those teams that have a chance to compete for the biggest championship in college basketball.”

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