Revitalized offense helps Owls take down Butler
Six players scored in double-figures for the 19th-ranked Florida Atlantic men's basketball team, opening the ESPN Invitational with a 91-86 victory over the Butler Bulldogs on Thursday afternoon to celebrate Thanksgiving Day. This also marks their first-ever win against a team from the Big East conference, which Butler is currently a member of.
It was a strong and resounding win for FAU, who entered the tourney coming off a brutal 61-52 upset loss to Bryant at home. Compared to that game where they shot an ice-cold 26.2% from the field, they made 52.4% of their shots against Butler. Center Vladislav Goldin led the way with a double-double of 19 points and 11 rebounds on 5-6 shooting.
"This group, their character, their connectivity, their relationships with each other, it's a special group and that has to be a competitive advantage for us because we are going to get everyone's best shot," head coach Dusty May said.
"When you have the season we had, we are going to be a big game on team's schedules, so if we are not as connected, they are going to be able to match our emotional energy every single game. Without a doubt, our togetherness and connectivity has to be our competitive advantage going forward."
The shooting woes that held back FAU last Saturday weren't there to start the game, having a stretch where they made five of their last seven attempts. Goldin and guard Bryan Greenlee were quite efficient in the first half, combining for 16 points in the starting lineup.
They notably got plenty of bench production from guard Jalen Gaffney and forward Tre Carroll (pictured via FAU Athletics). Gaffney scored nine points on 4-5 shooting while Carroll had eight points once halftime arrived, showcasing his offensive creativity inside the arc.
Guard Alijah Martin was off with his shot for most of the contest, but the back-to-back threes he made close to the midway point of the second half gave the Owls what they needed to keep the Bulldogs at a distance.
Even as Butler fought back, FAU came through down the stretch thanks to Goldin knocking down much-needed free-throws and Martin making a crafty spinaround fadeaway jumper to seal the deal.
"We talked in the locker room about what we have to do and how we have to play with some type of courage…We decided to play more aggressive inside the paint and that is what gave me confidence to make some shots," Goldin said.
Losing the rebounding battle 49-47 to Bryant, the Owls made sure that didn't happen again with Butler as they won 37-31 in that department. They also outscored the Bulldogs 17-9 in second-chance points, taking advantage of the 15 offensive rebounds they got compared to Butler's 10.
Guard Johnell Davis was active on the boards with nine to go along with his 15 points, Gaffney had 14 points and three assists on 6-9 shooting, and Martin fought through his shooting struggles to finish with 13 points. As for Carroll, he converted a difficult shot through contact with over six minutes left in the game, putting up 11 points in nine minutes of action once it concluded.
"For him to score the number of points in the minutes he played was obviously very valuable…I do think because he was making those shots, it extended the floor and allowed other guys to play a little bit better on the offensive end," May said regarding Carroll's performance.
The Owls move on to the semifinals as they will next face the 12th-ranked Texas A&M Aggies on Friday, November 24th, at 11:00 AM on ESPN2. Texas A&M fended off Penn State in a 89-77 victory, seeing their record improve to 5-0 this season.