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Grand finale! Greenlee, Goldin too much for Memphis

Talk about saving your best for last. Bryan Greenlee’s Senior Day performance Saturday as FAU beat Memphis 92-84 is what every other Save The Best For Last wants to be when it grows up.

Reinserted in the starting lineup where he joined Jalen Gaffney and Brandon Weatherspoon in their last career games at the Elly, Greenlee more than tripled his season average with 21 points on 6-for-8 shooting including 5-for-6 on 3-pointers. It was the highest-scoring game of his career since 2020-21, when he scored 25 against South Alabama in his first year at FAU after transferring from Minnesota.

“I’ll remember it forever,” said Greenlee (pictured here via Richard Pereira), a senior from Gainesville. “My last game here at the Burrow with my guys, my brothers. My family here to watch me. And obviously I had a great performance.”

Greenlee’s shooting frequently was the payoff on an afternoon when the Owls moved on from their usual M.O. of passing up good shots for great to passing up great shots for sublime. The Owls (24-7) had 20 assists on their 35 field goals, often running the Tigers ragged on defense. It was warm inside the Elly, but from start to finish—in maybe their best all-around performance since upsetting Arizona the last time they were televised nationally—the Owls brought their own heat.

“They move the ball. They move bodies. They’re like a well-oiled machine when they get going. In the second half today, they just put us on their heels. They moved the ball and got their shots,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said.

The Tigers’ first visit to the Elly was truly an immersive experience overall. The Owls brought their A game. But so did the usual sellout on Red Out Day.

“The crowd gave them a huge boost today,” said Memphis senior guard Jayden Hardaway, the coach's son. “We couldn’t hear our own play calls.”

He wasn’t exaggerating. Penny Hardaway said the crowd muted his efforts to call in live-game adjustments from the bench. One such stretch in particular might have altered the course of the game, the final moments of the first half. Shortly after Vlad Goldin provided what turned out to be the final lead change of the day, a layup that put FAU up 25-24 with just under 7 minutes to play, the Tigers committed a series of turnovers that helped FAU extend the lead to 41-35 at halftime.

Credit the crowd with an assist. Penny Hardaway did. He said the best he could do was convey strategy during timeouts. During live play? Forget it.

“They did a phenomenal job today in this gym,” he said. “It took the offense out of my hands. … We went through a stretch with two minutes to go in the first half where I was trying to tell Joe (Cooper) and Jayhlon (Young) and Jaykwon (Walton) what to do. They all went one-on-one, they all turned the ball over, live ball turnovers …  We’ve been able to control the tempo by giving them a package of offensive plays. For whatever reason, we tried to make it up on our own and it cost us.”

Hardaway called it “huge” that FAU went from up by one to up by six in the last 36 seconds of the half. Greenlee had all five points. To that moment, he’d scored just three.

David Jones missed a free throw for Memphis that would have tied the game with 42 seconds left. Greenlee took the ball after Alijah Martin’s defensive rebound, hurried upcourt and looked to the bench. There, FAU coach Dusty May was signaling a 2-for-1, meaning take a quick shot and, even if Memphis used up all 30 seconds in its next possession, the Owls would get an opportunity to take the last shot.

Greenlee nodded at May in acknowledgment, hunted a screen from Goldin and drilled a 3-pointer. Then—May’s strategy paying off—Memphis missed, Alijah Martin flung the outlet pass to Greenlee, and from just inside the arc in the left corner, he splashed in the shot that made it 41-35.

“We felt like we could get a free possession, and we had several fouls to give …” May said. “They shot, the clean rebound came long. It was a clean rebound by Aljiah and he pitched it up to B.J. and we got two really good shots. I thought Vlad set a great screen on the first one, and I think it was a great individual play by both B.J. and Alijah in that (second) situation.”

Little did May know he was lighting the match for the biggest second half of Greenlee’s career.

“That bucket before the half, that first one that I hit off the screen, definitely gave me the confidence to keep shooting,” Greenlee said. “I looked for my shot and didn’t hesitate when I saw an opening.”

Greenlee opened the second half assisting on a Weatherspoon 3 that opened the lead to nine. The first of his own three second-half 3s, with 7:19 left, put FAU up 69-56. The second gave the Owls their biggest lead, 75-61. But the last one was needed to blunt a late Memphis rally, making it 86-77 with 1:36 left. If outproducing his .327 season percentage from 3 came in handy, his 4-for-4 free-throw shooting in the final minute—after hitting just 55.6 percent all season—was crucial to sealing the victory.

It was all Greenlee had hoped for in his Senior Day and more, especially after experiencing an up-and-down last few games and switching out roles recently from starter to bench.

“I woke up this morning and just wanted to have a positive mindset," Greenlee said. "I was going through a little bit of a slump and I just wanted to be there for my guys and be as supportive as I could.”

Weatherspoon (nine points, five rebounds) and Gaffney (six points, four assists) also acquitted themselves well in their farewell home game.

“From all three of us, bittersweet moment but so appreciative of where we’ve taken this program,” Greenlee said. “The fans, the atmosphere at FAU over the past two, three, four years—it’s been nothing short of amazing to watch the growth we’ve had on and off the court.”

In May’s mind, all three deserved the outcome they got Saturday.

“Those guys had an opportunity to finish their eligibility at a place they left a mark, a legacy, and not just because of the Final Four run or the conference championships, but because of the way they work, the way they interact with each other, the way they interact with us as a staff, the way they’re just normal students and embrace being normal students doing something special together. … They’ve worked, they’ve sacrificed, they’ve won at an extremely high level. Our success wouldn’t look anything like this if those three hadn’t made the decision to come here.”

If Saturday was Senior Day, it also was Goldin hour.

Goldin was at his most dominant from the outset, matching Greenlee’s 21 points as team high and also pulling down 12 rebounds. He moved forcefully and decisively on every play.

“Vlad is amazing,” Hardaway said. “He has a humongous presence on both (ends of the court), a very high IQ. He’s playing championship basketball. He’s a big part of what they do. And he’s emerged. Last year he played well. This year he’s playing great."

His son Jayden added: “We’ve got size, but that’s a big dude. He’s tall. Our game plan for him is really just to get him as far away from the basket as possible. Credit to him.”

Martin had 16 points off the bench after ceding his starting role for this game to Greenlee. Johnell Davis had 14 points and five assists and made correct reads based on the varied defensive looks Memphis gave him out of respect for his scoring ability.

“Nelly’s garnering a lot of attention,” May said. “Teams build walls. When he turns his back to the basket, they run another defender at him, they put two guys on his ball screens, and I thought he did a great job of .. not forcing the issue, and we got great looks because of his unselfishness. And Alijah Martin, the same thing.”

In the end, it was too much Goldin for the Tigers, too much Greenlee, and too much ball movement.

“Fatigue. man, it’ll make it hard for you to get out on the shooter,” Hardaway said.  “And the way they move the ball and play unselfishly, he’s gonna pop open sometimes.”

Next up for the Owls is the AAC Tournament at Fort Worth, Texas. FAU earned a second seed behind regular-season champ South Florida and will play 7 p.m. Friday against either North Texas or the to-be-determined 10th seed. USF lost its regular-season finale Saturday at Tulsa, ending its 16-game conference winning steak. So the Bulls may be heading to Fort Worth a little wobbly and maybe less secure about an at-large bid if they fail to win the tournament.

Not so FAU. The Owls’ flight to the postseason may have been more turbulent this year than last, but they’re heading there with a tailwind.

“We went through a few different obstacles this year,” May said. “We like where we are right now. We feel good about the pulse of our locker room, the synergy of our team."

As for Hardaway, he came away from his first visit to FAU with an even greater appreciation for the program.

“You’ve got to tip your hat to FAU for being a great program and a great team and what they’ve built here,” he said. “Obviously it’s my first time on campus. This school wasn’t built for a powerhouse like that. For them to put this school on the map last year and continue to do so, that’s a lot of respect from me.”

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