The greatest season in FAU basketball history came to a close Saturday night, to a buzzer-beating game-winner no less.
Despite having a 14-point lead with 14:56 remaining in the second half, the Owls saw it dissipate. The San Diego State Aztecs got multiple offensive rebounds to pull away with the 72-71 victory in the final seconds of the game with Aztec guard Lamont Butler knocking down the last shot at the buzzer.
"Extremely proud of the guys' effort and the ride they've taken us on for five or six months," head coach Dusty May said. "They put a lot into this, and sometimes it doesn't go your way. There's only one team in this tournament that's going to end on a win, and unfortunately it's not us this year."
After going down 12-5 to start the contest, the Owls ignited a 16-5 run which included two three-pointers from guard Nick Boyd, who finished with four made threes on the night.
The Owls were particularly sharp with their shooting splits for the first half. They shot 53.6% from the field and 42.9% from downtown, maintaining a 40-33 lead at halftime.
"I'm happy for our team. We put FAU on the map; that's most important to me. When I came to this school and I committed here, I said this is what we're going to do," Nick Boyd said. "And we took it to a new height. All I can do is smile and be appreciative of the run we went on and know next year you're going to hear from FAU again. You're going to see us in the same position, and it's going to be a different outcome, I promise you."
Alijah Martin (photo) turned up in the second half. After getting just seven points in the first, the sophomore guard went off for 19 points in the second to keep FAU within reach of the championship game until the final seconds.
"I thank my teammates. They did a really good job setting me up and trusting me, and Coach May trusted me, too," said Martin, who finished with a game-high 26 points and seven rebounds. "We're going to be back. We're not going to hold our head too low. We'll be back at it in a couple of days."
Facing a 14-point deficit, San Diego State fought back by using nine offensive rebounds to their advantage. FAU's inability to secure the boards following a missed shot allowed the Aztecs to force their way back in to erase the gap that kept them in check for a majority of the game.
Martin got an excellent layup to put the Owls ahead 71-68 with 45 seconds to go, but the Aztecs got back-to-back jumpers which ended up being the last made shots for the remainder of the game. The last one sealed FAU's fate as San Diego State moved on to the championship game for Monday night.
"I was in shock when the buzzer went off, but it's the game of basketball," Boyd said. "We had our fun when we did that against Memphis, and it just didn't go our way this night. We got the whole team coming back. Owls ain't going nowhere."
This game was the last for senior guard Michael Forrest, who finished with two points, a rebound, and an assist in 12 minutes of action. Despite the loss, he is proud of the amazing season he and the team had together.
"I'm proud where we ended off. Just bummed we didn't finish the job," Forrest said. "We're definitely bonded for life. This isn't just an on-the-court thing. Off the court, we're brothers. We're a big family and I love each and every one of these guys."
May reflected on the team's run in March Madness, saying the team created memories and a legacy that people will talk about for the next 50 to 100 years. He also sees it as great momentum heading into the American Athletic Conference next season.
"We'll be obsessed with being the absolute best we can be individually and collectively before next season," May said. "We're going to get in the foxhole, and we're going to work like crazy every single day, with a great attitude, and we're going to enjoy the work, and then this is a byproduct of that consistency and that unselfishness."
With May sticking around for many years to come as FAU enters the AAC, the future has never looked brighter for the Owls.
- FAU finishes the season with a 35-4 record. The 35 wins are the most in program history and the most by a Conference USA school in league history.
- The loss snapped an 11-game winning streak for the Owls, their second double-digit winning streak of the season.
- FAU finished with a 27-2 record when leading at halftime.
- The Owls lost the battle of the boards for the first time this tournament, losing 35-34 to San Diego State in that category.
- FAU finishes 7-1 on neutral courts this season, winning their first seven before falling to San Diego State on Saturday night.