FAU had to overcome plenty in the first 42 minutes before dominating the last three to ensure the first move of its Texas two-step wasn’t a stumble.
The Owls moved into a share of first place in the American Athletic Conference by defeating host UTSA 112-103 in overtime despite:
- Giving up 53 points in a first half—falling behind 9-0 in the first 90 seconds and 36-20 midway through.
- Putting UTSA in the bonus with 5 minutes into the second half, leading to 25 made free throws by the Roadrunners.
- Never leading in the first half and playing from the lead for a combined 3 minutes, 10 seconds in the second—and never by more than three points.
- Needing three free throws from Johnell Davis with 16 seconds left and then sweating out a open miss by UTSA to force OT tied at 91-91.
- Inability to do much defensively with Roadrunners guard Jordan Ivy-Curry, who scored a game-high 38 points on just 20 field-goal attempts.
The Owls withstood all that in the first stop on a road swing through Texas because Davis delivered down the stretch in regulation and Alijah Martin took over in overtime. They combined to score 22 of their team’s final 30 points as FAU (15-4) finished the weekend tied with Charlotte atop the AAC at 5-1.
“We’re a work in progress," FAU coach Dusty May said. "We’re not anywhere near where we need to be. But to go on the road, in this environment, and to have travel issues and face adversity like we have, and we find a wayour season is so long, and if you’re in position to win a championship, you look back and you found a way to win these." More on those travel issues later.
Davis scored the Owls’ last nine points of the second half en route to 34—a field goal with 2:41 left before 7-for-7 free throws. He added four more in the extra period, but Martin’s nine points in a 90-second span in OT broke the game open. After Davis’ eighth and ninth free throws tied the game 96-96, Martin poked the ball from a UTSA guard for a steal and raced in for an and-one layup with 3:02 left. He doubled that lead with a 3-pointer at 2:28 and hit another trey with 1:32 left to make it 106-99.
“We’re pleased with how he’s attacking the baskets and getting some and-ones,” May said of Martin, who finished with 26 points. "He hit 3-point shots later, but I thought he attacked the rim throughout the game. … I thought he made some really big defensive plays, some hustle plays."
As consequential as those late-game heroics by Davis and Martin were, the Owls might never have been in position to use them without a heaping Spoonful of badly needed help from the bench earlier in game. Brandon Weatherspoon (pictured via FAU Athletics) also scored six points in OT—he finished with a season-high 21 in 30 minutes—but his biggest impact might have come in the first half, when he scored 11 points including three 3-pointers to help FAU close that 16-point deficit to four at half.
“Hats off to Spoon. He was playing hard. He brought the energy for us,” Davis said.
May also talked about the lift Weatherspoon provided.
“We gave us energy, hit shots to settle us down. He was great throughout. He got some big-time rebounds. His intensity and tenaciousness was a tipping point for us.”
Three-pointers were a big part of FAU’s offense all afternoon. Despite having to cancel their planned shoot-around Saturday after arriving late because of a flight delay, the Owls acclimated nicely in real time and hit 17 3s on 35 tries.
Early game, though, all the shooting stats favored UTSA. The Roadrunners, who also took 10th-ranked Memphis to overtime earlier this season before losing another combined 200-point marathon, got open looks behind the arc on their first three possessions and hit all three.
“Those first were catch-and-shoot threes,” May said. “We switched up our ball-screen coverages, but those guys are going to have an answer to coverages. We just tried to keep them off balance, but credit them, they made shots. They were ready to play.”
Ten minutes in, the Roadrunners were 10-for-15 overall and 6-for-9 from three. Their shooting percentage for the game didn’t drop below 50 percent until just 7 1/2 minutes remained in regulation. They finished at 49 percent overall and 44 percent (12-for-27) from 3.
FAU ended up outshooting them, though, finishing at 52 percent overall and 49 percent from the arc. But as has been the case a few times this season, free-throw shooting made the path to victory bumpier than it might have been. Davis was 9-for-9, but the rest of the Owls hit just 10 of 20.
Luckily for FAU, other Roadrunners cooled off more than Ivy-Curry. The 6-foot-3 junior guard, who transferred back to UTSA after playing at Pacific last year, showed why he was 2,000-point scorer at his Texas high school as hegave the Owls fits from the moment he entered the game 5 minutes in. He hit 10 of 20 shots overall, including four of eight 3s. He also was adept at drawing fouls and hit 14 of 17 free throws.
“He can shoot, he can get to the rim. I thought they set some really, really good screens for him,” May said. “Just his ability to shoot off the catch, (and) I thought he shot well off the bounce tonight. And you mix in his natural ability to draw fouls. It’s kind of like Nelly (Davis). They have good feel for when the defender is off-balance, and they’re able to use that to their advantage. He’s a tough cover.”
UTSA outrebounded FAU 37-35, but committed to sending extra men to the offensive boards to do so. There’s a risk to that strategy: Not being in position if FAU gets the rebound and starts running.
“Tonight I thought our transition offense was humming,” May said.
FAU and Charlotte are one-half game ahead of four other one-loss teams in the AAC standings—but surprisingly, Memphis isn’t one of them. After surrendering a 20-point lead and losing at home Thursday to South Florida, the Tigers lost Sunday at Tulane 81-79. The 4-1 teams are SMU, South Florida, UAB and North Texas. North Texas also had entered the weekend unbeaten in the league but lost to the 49ers on Saturday in Charlotte.
The Owls finish their Texas road trip Wednesday at Rice.