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Supreme Owl! FAU takes down Temple in Rosado's return

Before this week, almost 40 percent of all American Athletic Conference games this season were decided by three points or less, went into overtime, or both.

FAU and Temple didn’t officially play one of those kind of games Thursday, but FAU’s 80-68 victory sure felt like one.

The 24th-ranked host Owls put together a time capsule-quality, 10-minute stretch and led 45-28 with 2 1/2 minutes till halftime. But the gravitational pull of the AAC brought the Other Owls almost all the way back. FAU needed a handful of late, timely plays from Brandon Weatherspoon (pictured above via Bob Markey II) and Giancarlo Rosado—in his grand return—to restore order against what Temple fans might rightfully argue is the best team on a 10-game losing streak in NCAA history.

“For eight or 10 minutes of the first half we played about as well as we’ve played in a long time,” FAU coach Dusty May said. “We just couldn’t sustain the run.”

Sustaining control seems hard for anyone around the AAC this season. According to the league, 30 of 77 conference games have been tight at the finish, 39 percent. No other conference comes close—the runner-up Big 12 checks in at a paltry 25.3 percent. Of course, FAU (20-5, 10-2 AAC) has done more than its share to help build that lead. Five of the Owls’ first 11 fit that criteria.

As the game wore on Thursday, the prospect of making it 6-for-12 was not unreasonable.

Taking advantage of FAU’s inability to regain the edge it lost heading into halftime, Temple (8-17, 1-11 AAC) inched closer and closer throughout the second half. Finally, as the clock ticked under 8 minutes, after a missed layup, then a missed 3-pointer, Temple got a third try. And at the end of a bizarre sequence that looked like an Olympic volleyball bump-set-kill, 6-foot-4 guard Jordan Riley thundered home a message-sending dunk that tightened the score to 60-58.

Vlad Goldin’s missed layup a half-minute later might have further dispirited the Elly sellout. But before that emotion even had time to register, there was Weatherspoon slipping in front of bigger Temple bodies at the rim and tipping in the biggest basket of the game.

“It’s easy to turn around the other away and assume (Goldin’s shot is) going in, but he really battled for position,” May said.

But Weatherspoon wasn't done. About 20 seconds later, the ball slipped out of a Temple player’s hands as he tried to slip a ball to the man Weatherspoon as guarding out front. Weatherspoon collected the bouncing ball, worked it up in transition, surveyed passing options and found himself more open than anyone else after Temple’s transition defense focused on the targets instead of the passer.

He launched. It splashed. FAU led 65-57. Temple never got closer than five again.

It was the second straight rescue effort off the bench for Weatherspoon, who finished with 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting including 4-of-7 from the arc. In FAU’s overtime victory over Wichita State, he delivered 19 points. In the two games he’s hit 12-of-17 shots overall and 7-of-12 3s.

“He’s an emotional leader. I thought it was awesome for him to get his production back up. Those three steals were separators,” May said.

Weatherspoon was one of five FAU Owls in double figures. Johnell Davis had 17 points, Alijah Martin matched Weatherspoon’s 16, and Goldin and Nick Boyd each had 12. Martin also grabbed seven rebounds to match reserve center Tre Carroll’s team-high total.

Carroll—who had been filling in as backup post while Rosado missed seven games with a leg injury he suffered against UAB on Jan. 14—was the first post off the bench again Thursday as FAU eased Rosado back in, and logged 10 minutes to Rosado’s seven. But when FAU needed a defensive answer to Temple forward Sam Hofman, who scored all 12 of his points from the arc despite being 6-5 and 260 pounds, May turned to Rosado.

"They were playing small ball," May said.  "We know what our Achilles heel is on defense. Vlad protects the rim, and sometimes we over-help and get sucked in. That happened a few times. He was 4-for-4, and we thought the best chance was to play Tre and Giancarlo (on defense against Hofman) and switch. I thought they did a great job on the guards.”

May added: “Credit them, they made plays, they found some mismatches, but I thought Tre and especially Giancarlo down the stretch, sat down and played great defense.”

On Temple’s first possession after he checked in and the score still 65-58, Rosado rallied off Hofman, who he was guarding on the perimeter, to block a driving layup by Shane Dezonie. That one also sent a message.

But he also wasn’t done. Davis scored the Owls’ next seven points, and two of his baskets—including a 3-pointer and a game-set-match layup, came on assists from Rosado.

May obviously was delighted to have Rosado (pictured above via Bob Markey II) available again.

“He does so much emotionally for us. He’s such a positive guy, brings great energy, physicality, toughness and communication on both sides of the ball. When he’s in, we usually get better shots. … I could go on till tomorrow raving about Giancarlo Rosado. Great to have him back."

Amen to that, Martin said.

“It was amazing. He throws that thing around … We missed that,” he said. “He can hit us on backdoors. He can hit us on flares, in the pockets. It just opens up the offense.”

The grind over the final 22 minutes was a sharp contrast with most of the breathtaking, 12 1/2-minute stretch of the first half in which FAU outscored Temple 36-17. Beginning with a 3 from Martin for the final lead change of the game at 12-11, FAU hit of seven of nine shots including five of six 3s. Over the full stretch, the Owls were 12-of-19 and 7-of-12.

So what happened after that?

A combination of things.

The game got a little chippy, and players on both teams got caught up in back-and-forth chitchat, which may have caused some drift off focus.

Then the game got choppy, as various stoppages in play—particularly early in the second half—prevented FAU from getting on another extended roll.

It didn’t help that Jalen Gaffney and Bryan Greenlee, senior guards who keep the ball moving smoothly, sat out the end of the first half with two fouls. Gaffney was particularly impactful Thursday. In the 20 minutes he was on the floor, FAU outscored Temple by 19.

“The ball (had been) really moving. I thought all five guys were engaged. They could anticipate where the shots would happen so they could work for offensive rebounds. Then the ball started sticking a little bit,” May said.

“A body in motion stays in motion. I thought once our bodies stopped moving, we weren’t as aggressive on the glass. We weren’t getting the long rebounds."

And as May pointed out, it certainly didn’t help that four missed free throws, including a front end, kept FAU stuck on 45 for the last 2 1/2 minutes of the half.

“You look at the flow of the game, and you get in a rut from the line and you’re not able to capitalize, and the game feels a little bit different,” May said.

There’s also this not-to-be-ignored fact. In its last two games, Temple trailed Memphis 80-77 with 28 seconds left before losing 84-77, then dropped a three-point decision to Charlotte in which a half-court shot by the 49ers at halftime accounted for the difference.

“As we’re watching film all week, we’d pause it and say, ‘Look at the score. They’re down three in the last minute against Memphis, or they’re down two, or in overtime,’ “ May said. “They’ve been in every single game. Like a lot of (AAC) teams, they haven’t been together and don’t have the cohesion we have, and they just haven’t found ways to close. Every team in this league is scary."

Indeed, after the game Thursday, Hofman, the Temple forward, was asked if his team’s 10-game losing streak feels real.

“Yes and no,” he replied. “The record says it, but we’re competing well. We’re right there at the end. It’s like little things we can clean up and the results go the other way.

Nevertheless, FAU got past what some—though not May or his team—considered a potential trap game and enter the big-boy portion of the AAC schedule one game out of first place. Next up is a showdown for that top spot with red-hot South Florida. After that come matchups with strong SMU and Tulane teams, two games with dangerous and now desperate Memphis, and a road rematch at North Texas—the team that rendered the Tigers desperate Thursday by beating them 76-66.

Who knows what will happen. FAU has shown the ability to win by knockout and by grind-out. Thursday the Owls got practice at both.

“We got something out of this experience,” May said. “Temple’s got some strengths that can expose some things where we’re not (as strong). I thought down the stretch, our guys … supported each other and found ways to get crucial stops.”

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