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Owls dominate OT at Wichita State

The first 20 seconds of overtime might have been the decisive clip in FAU’s 95-82 overtime win Sunday at Wichita State—Vlad Goldin looping the opening tip to Alijah Martin, who drove for a heavily challenged score, followed by Brandon Weatherspoon stealing a pass and racing in for two of his career high 19 points.

But the overall story arc of the game can be encapsulated in one eight-second clip from the first half.

Martin slid to the floor between two shockers at midcoast, won the scrum for the ball and forwarded it to Johnell Davis for a breezy runaway layup.

That’s a worthy metaphor of an afternoon in which the Owls came within a missed Wichita State 3-pointer at the end of regulation from shifting out of the NET rankings into the NOT rankings.

The Owls had to scrap all game to keep from falling victims to the better-than-their-record Shockers, some tough officiating breaks, and even some brief and not-so-brief lapses of their own. Yet after losing a nine-point lead in the last 6 1/2 minutes of regulation, they took control of overtime from the outset and never relinquished it, turning the game into a runaway.

Thus did the 20th-ranked Owls (19-5) avoid losing in consecutive games for the first time since March 2022, stay one game behind South Florida in the American Athletic Conference, and protect their NET profile should that matter next month in their pursuit of an NCAA Tournament bid. FAU is 9-2 in the AAC with Temple coming to The Elly on Thursday and a road game with the red-hot Bulls looming next Sunday.

The overtime in Wichita was Arizona-vintage FAU after 40 minutes of up-and-down UAB-vintage FAU. They outscored the shellshocked Shockers 21-8, hitting seven of eight shots. The only miss was by Goldin, who dunked in his own rebound with 2:27 left. Goldin (pictured via Travis Heying) scored six of his team-high 20 points in the extra period. Weatherspoon followed with his third 3-pointer, and FAU equaled its largest lead in regulation.

“We made two hustle plays at the start (of OT) and I thought that set the tone,” FAU coach Dusty May said—just as UAB’s fast start in overtime did on Thursday, leading to that 76-73 loss. “It happened to us the other day, when we got on our heels. We got down a couple baskets early, and it just feels a little bit different. Without a doubt, the hustle plays—Alijah came up with the loose ball and finished with a lot of contact, then Spoon read the next play and ran through a pass and got us a little bit of separation.”

Would they then go without a field goal, as they did over the final 3:23 along the way to giving up a 68-59 lead? Martin—who scored seven of his 11 points in the overtime—answered by hitting a 3, but it’s a fair question. All game, FAU was mostly Dr. Jekyll but occasionally Mr. Hyde. Stretches of inspirational defense but with lapses mixed in that opened driving lanes for Wichita State. Stretches of clarity on offense but with possessions of searching mixed in.

It also didn’t help the Owls that officials were generally permissive in allowing contact yet seemed to whistle the Owls for more than their share of soft-contact fouls. Goldin, perhaps speaking for himself and not for Owls fans who watched the ESPN2 telecast, said: “The referee let us play. It was nice. I like it.”  

One constant for the Owls was the play of Weatherspoon. The senior entered the game just over three minutes in to give Johnell Davis a chance to refocus after his 0-for-3 start in field-goal shooting contributed to FAU’s overall 0-for-7 start. Weatherspoon hit his first 3 the first time he touched the ball for the Owls’ first basket. Inside the ensuing two minutes, he hit another 3 and a driving layup and generally was early anchor FAU needed after carrying over its game-long list at UAB.

"I told (ESPN analyst) Jon Crispin before the game this guy (Weatherspoon) gets no credit, no accolades, no love," May said. "And, man, I don’t think our record would be anywhere close to what it is if he wasn’t on our team. His consistency, his energy—everyone on our team is much better because he’s on our team, every single day. It’s easy to talk about him today … but his impact goes so much beyond that. Today, it’s an early morning game (11 a.m. CST tip), and it’s Super Bowl Sunday, and we’re on the road, and some guys are having trouble, and I look up, and it looked like he was playing in the Super Bowl."

Aw shucks, ’tweren’t nothing, Weatherspoon said. Or words to that effect.

“It was an early morning game and I’m a big energy guy, so I just tried to get our juices flowing early as possible and just get us going as a great teammate to just make sure everything stays positive,” Weatherspoon said.

Davis hit four big free throws down the stretch Sunday but, as at Birmingham, was not his usual efficient self. He scored 14 points Sunday but was just 5-for-13 after his 5-for-21 night Thursday. But Weatherspoon wasn’t the only Owl to step up and fill in.

Bryan Greenlee (pictured above via WSU Athletics) scored 11 points, including a 3-pointer and a mid-range shot on back-to-back possessions early in the second half, shots that were key to holding off a concerted Wichita State effort after halftime.

Tre Carroll off the bench also had a notable game with nine points. His 3-pointer came at a key time, as did a highlight one-on-one layup. And his spectacular mid-air adjustment at the rim to convert a sharp Nick Boyd pass into a layup pushed FAU’s lead to nine and seemed to signal the game was in the Owls’ control.

That’s because no lead is safe in the AAC, where even teams lower in the standings like the Shockers can’t be counted out.

“All of us have the same talent. Some of us have a little more experience or this or that,” May said.

Actually, that might especially apply to the Shockers (10-14, 3-8 AAC), who in the last couple of weeks have been an upset trying to bubble up to the surface.

Since losing to the Owls 86-77 at The Elly on Jan. 18, the Shockers have gone 2-4, beating a good SMU team, blowing out UTSA and dropping two-point games against East Carolina and at Memphis. Even in all four losses, they’d led in the second half, including by 11 points with 6 minutes left at Memphis.

Not that FAU wasn’t complicit in the comeback Sunday.

“I thought at the end of regulation we made a couple of fouls outside of scoring areas, and we typically don’t do that, but those points ended up being a determining factor. There’s a randomness to it,” May said.

Still, FAU overcame it all.

“I think our guys just have a belief we’re going to find a way,” May said.

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