History is made once again for Florida Atlantic University. The elite Owls have advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time ever.
In a battle that was every bit as physical and intense as advertised, the No. 9 seed Florida Atlantic University's men's basketball team took down the No. 4 seed Tennessee Volunteers in the Sweet Sixteen by a score of 62-55.
The Owls, who had never won an NCAA Tournament game in school history before this year, are now 40 minutes away from the Final Four. FAU will face Kansas State on Saturday at 6:09 p.m., with a trip to Houston on the line.
The win also marked head coach Dusty May's 100th career win. All of those wins have come at the sidelines of the Owls. May, the Conference USA Coach of the Year and the NABC All-District 17 Coach of the Year, has brought FAU to new heights, and has his Owls on the doorstep of the Final Four.
From the opening tip, Florida Atlantic knew the challenge they were in for when facing a tall and physical team such as Tennessee. FAU was aggressive on the boards early on, but found themselves trailing early and often, at one point by as much as nine points.
After holding Tennessee to a miss on six of their last seven shots, FAU entered halftime in striking distance, a slight 27-22 deficit.
The Owls and Volunteers battled back and forth to begin the second frame, with Florida Atlantic continuing to fight on every possession.
At this point, it was only fitting that Mr. FAU himself, senior guard Michael Forrest (photo center), took over. The all-time leading three-point shooter and number two scorer in school history scored eight straight points, sparking an 18-2 run to give the Owls their first lead of the night, one that they would not surrender. The Owls' massive run pulled them from down 39-33 to up 51-41 with 6:47 to go.
"Oh, man, I don't even know how to explain it, just my teammates set me up perfectly just so I could make the open shots", said Forrest. "I've been having a rough time lately, but my teammates kept the positivity with me, so I owe it all to them."
The Owls outscored Tennessee 40-28 in the second half to secure their spot in the East regional final. FAU will enter as just the seventh nine seed to ever make it to the elite eight.
"After the first seven minutes or so, we felt like we really settled in and played good basketball", said Head Coach Dusty May. "Despite the score at the half, we felt like we were playing our type of game."
Entering the NCAA Tournament, only 2.2% of anyone filling out a bracket picked Florida Atlantic to make it this far. Now, after 34 wins, three victories in the NCAA Tournament, and a spot among the final eight teams in college basketball, the dream season is becoming a reality.
"I've got a group of brothers that play together, and I feel like there's nobody in the country that loves each other like we do and works like we do, so we're going to keep making statements", said guard Nick Boyd. "We're here to stay and we're going to keep fighting no matter who we line up against, who we play."
- The Owls dominated in the board battle, outrebounding Tennessee 40-36 despite being undersized at almost every position.
- Four players snagged at least six rebounds: Nick Boyd (8), Brandon Weatherspoon (7), Vladislav Goldin (7), and Johnell Davis (6).
- Boyd was all over the court, finishing the night with 12 points and seven rebounds.
- Davis had a team-high 15 points.
- Alijah Martin had another hot shooting start, scoring six of FAU's first 10 points.
- Martin finished with nine points overall, now 11 away from 1,000 career points
- An overall balanced night for FAU led to the victory, with eight of the nine players who saw the floor recording a point
The dance continues on Saturday at 6:09 PM as the Owls return to Madison Square Garden to take on the No. 3 seed Kansas State Wildcats with a spot in the Final Four on the line.