The unbelievable ride that is the 2022-23 season for Florida Atlantic University men's basketball will go all the way to Houston.
On Saturday night, the Owls accomplished what was previously thought to be unthinkable in their 35 years of existence. The net was cut at Madison Square Garden and the Owls stood on the East Regional Championship podium. Like the Round of 64, 32, and Sweet Sixteen, the No. 9 seed FAU survived and advanced in the Elite Eight, taking down the No. 3 seed Kansas State Wildcats in an instant classic, 79-76. Now, they move to the Final Four for a chance to play for the 2023 National Championship Game.
The tone was set just eight seconds into the night, when junior guard Bryan Greenlee (photo right) knocked down a three-pointer to take a 3-0 lead. A timely triple by Greenlee would become a theme of the night. When the Owls needed to re-take a lead later on in the first half, Greenlee came through once again, knocking down the triple to go ahead by a score of 34-32.
"It's pretty surreal. It's a lot of excitement. Just happiness for the unit that we have that everyone gets to experience this together, and also a little bit of just hunger to go finish it off", Greenlee said.
Unlike previous NCAA tournament games, Florida Atlantic was able to find their offensive rhythm in the first half. FAU shot 54% in the opening 20 minutes, while also taking on a massive 22-9 rebound advantage. The Owls were able to go into the locker room at halftime with a 42-38 lead.
Kansas State quickly found rhythm of their own quickly to start the second period, requiring Florida Atlantic to play from behind yet again, trailing by as much as seven, but the Owls continued to play fast and aggressive.
With under 10 minutes to go, the comeback was on. Yet another timely triple by Greenlee and one by Brandon Weatherspoon followed by a 7-0 run put the Owls in position, culminating in a ferocious dunk by Sophomore center Vladislav Goldin to give Florida Atlantic a 64-63 lead with six minutes to go.
A three-point shot by Alijah Martin followed by two free throws put the Owls ahead 72-64 at the 2:44 mark, their largest lead of the game.
Action went back-and-forth for the final two minutes as Kansas State wasn't quite ready to let go. With six seconds left and Florida Atlantic leading 77-76 with possession, the Wildcats were forced to foul Mr. FAU, Michael Forrest, who swished both free throw attempts to forever cement Florida Atlantic in the history books as one of the greatest stories in college basketball history.
"It feels amazing. You know, this is a group of guys that just loves to work, loves to compete. Also we love to serve each other. We love being around each other, and it shows on the court", said Martin.
Florida Atlantic University: 35 wins, undefeated home record, 100 wins for head coach Dusty May, first ever AP national ranking, first ever Conference USA title, second ever March Madness bid, first since 2002, first, second, third, and fourth tournament victory, first ever Final Four bid, and just two wins away from being national champions.
Yet for Head Coach Dusty May and the Owls' squad, there is still work to be done in Houston, Texas.
"It's extremely rewarding to see a group give as much as these guys have all season, shots, playing time, minutes, everything you could imagine, grit, everything 100 percent every day in practice, and then be rewarded because there's never a guarantee". May said. "You're always relying on faith that you believe it's going to happen, but you never really know. In this era where everyone wants the whole pie, these guys continued sharing the pie every single day, and this was the result. I couldn't be prouder of a group who did it really together every single day."
- Needing 11 entering the game, Martin reached 1,000 career points after his blank point performance. He reached the milestone on a clutch triple to break a 44-44 tie and give the Owls a lead.
- Martin again had a strong start to a game as a signature slam followed by a made three-pointer was key to the early scoring run. He finished the night with a team-high 17 points
- Goldin was next on the list due for a breakout game and took charge early on, scoring eight points, with eight rebounds, two assists, and two blocks in the first half
- He finished the night with 14 points, 13 rebounds, and two blocks
- It was raining Greenlee threes whenever the Owls needed a big-time shot. The Gainesville, Florida native scored 17 points on 4-6 shooting from downtown
- Known for his all-around stat-lines, Johnell Davis flirted with a triple double, finishing the night with 13 points, five rebounds, and
- The Owls stuck to their winning formula of crashing for every board, ending the night with a monster 44-22 rebounding advantage
- Florida Atlantic also benefited from a 15-2 advantage in second chance points
The Final Four will be held at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas on Saturday, April 1. Florida Atlantic is ready for the challenge ahead to become the lowest seed to ever win a National Championship.