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Owls bow out of NCAA Tourney with loss to Northwestern, Coach May taking "one day at a time" on his future

Fate offered a handshake to Florida Atlantic and then pulled back, executing one of the cruelest fake-outs in NCAA Tournament history.

The Owls’ two-year run of mostly magnificent basketball ended in an unfocused overtime and a 77-65 loss to Northwestern in the East Regional first round in Brooklyn after FAU rallied from nine points back but missed opportunities for a close if not last-second win in regulation.

So ended a 25-9 season that was much like the 35-4, Final Four season a year ago in terms of delivering memorable moments of visually stunning play for a fan base that’s exploded over the last 14 months. And yet different in notable ways—including outcomes like Friday’s.

“We fought. We battled. Did we let anyone down? Did we disappoint? I don’t think so,” Owls' coach Dusty May said after his final game before the coaching carousel spins and determines whether he’ll remain at FAU next year or hop off elsewhere.

“Did it go our way all the time? No. But it went our way last year most of the time. That’s the randomness of winning, but it was a blast, a blast.”

Junior center Vlad Goldin and senior guard Bryan Greenlee agreed.

“I think we are all appreciative of what we’ve done because we won a lot of games, and I feel like we built more than just a run or something else,” said Goldin, who has a COVID year of college basketball available but also has options. Friday, he closed a strong season with 19 points (after being kept without a field-goal attempt in the first half) plus nine rebounds and four blocks.

“I feel we built great relationships. We built more than just a run.”

Greenlee, who scored all of his career-ending seven points in a bunch when nothing else was going FAU’s way, agreed: “For sure, I can sit here and appreciate these past two years especially, but the whole (four years) I’ve been here building something from the ground up. And of course it’s disappointing, but to even make the tournament is something you’ve got to appreciate in itself. There’s a lot of good teams that don’t.”

May sat at the dais alongside Greenlee and Goldin and listened intently as they answered a question about choosing to stay at FAU last spring instead of chasing NIL opportunities elsewhere. An NIL nickel for your thoughts, Coach.

“That they were both transfers here to us,” May replied. “The irony of it. Just the irony of that, that they were asked about it sticking it out when they were both transfer-ins.”

The vastly bigger irony of the day was, after Goldin missed a 1-and-1 with FAU ahead 58-56 and 27.6 seconds left, the Northwestern player who scored the basket that forced overtime was Brooks Barnhizer, son of Dusty May’s high school coach three decades ago, Mark Barnhizer.

“It’s cool. When March comes around, there are a lot of really cool stories,” said Barnhizer, who finished with 13 points. “I have the utmost respect for Coach May.”

May, who texted Brooks Barnhizer the instant the pairings were announced, had to wait to congratulate him in the handshake line.

“I was in the back of the line, and we just told each other we love each other. We’re super close. … That’s all I can really say because it gets a little emotional in March.”

It was a brutal flip of emotions for the Owls, who after missing the chance to go up by three or four, inbounded the ball after Barnhizer’s basket with 8 seconds to untie and win the game.

Johnell Davis was deliberate as he worked the ball up the right side, sizing up options and coming up with nothing good. He wound up launching a 35-footer as time ticked away with Boo Buie and Mark Langborg closing fast. Buie even tipped the ball, not that it likely would have made a difference.

Davis, who had 18 points and six rebounds—but also committed nine turnovers against the Wildcats’ Big Ten-level vice grip defense—said Plan A was to drive left. The Wildcats took away Plan A and left him with no Plan B.

“I saw the gap close, so I tried a 3 and it got tipped,” Davis said. “I should’ve let B.J. (Greenlee) keep it and he could attack.”

FAU never recovered from the dispiriting finish to regulation. The Wildcats hit all five field-goals in OT while FAU missed six of eight. Langborg scored 12 of his school NCAA Tournament-record 27 in the extra period.

“Credit them, they made the plays, but it looked like we were a little out of gas in the overtime and emotionally spent,” May said.

In the first half, Barnhizer survived diving headfirst over a press table to lead the Wildcats in scoring with seven when Langborg and Buie combined for just five points. Northwestern missed 26 of 33 shots in the half and FAU led 20-19. Langborg hit 10 of 13 shots in the second half and OT. Buie, the All-Big Ten guard, heated up after halftime, too, and finished with 22.

Goldin arrived late to the party because he was caught in traffic—literally. The Wildcats defended him expertly, limiting his touches to not many and his scoring to three free throws.

“We just couldn’t get it to him,” Davis said.

But once Goldin arrived, he all but owned the party, helping FAU finish regulation on a 15-6 run after landing in its second nine-point deficit. Goldin converted two free throws after being knocked to the floor in what was upgraded to a flagrant foul. Moments later, he hit two more to tie the game, part of a 9-for-11 effort.

“We had a lot of confidence we could come out and win. It’s March and anything can happen,” Davis said.

And when a Davis jumper put the Owls up 58-56 with just 1:04 left and then stole the ball from Buie, the signs were pointing to FAU stealing a first-round win, just like last March against Memphis.
Davis missed a jumper, but a scramble for the offensive rebound resulted in a jump ball favoring FAU. Barnhizer fouled Goldin as he gathered the inbounds with 26 seconds left, and this time Goldin missed.

And then Barnhizer freed himself up using a Buie screen and drove for the tying layup.

And then … and then …

And now:

Several key Owls face decisions on their futures, from May on down. He was asked specifically about his.

“One day at a time,” he said, “We signed a very good high school class at FAU, and all of those decisions are for a later date.

“I think this time of year, in our profession … you’re either on the hot seat or you’re rumored for another job or your guys are in the portal. It is what it is. It’s never not going to be fluid. … We’ll do our individual meetings and figure out what’s next.

“But right now, I can’t speak for anyone in our locker room. We just poured our heart and soul into this team, into this run, and unfortunately for us we didn’t get to where we wanted to get to, but life goes on.”

Davis—who flirted with All-America mention this season—will speak for himself. But not about the big picture.

"My immediate plan,” he said, “is to take no days off, go back to work, and try to get better.”

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