Welcome, Guest. Please login or register.
Skip navigation

Throwdown! Martin, Owls posterize SMU

Alijah Martin’s one-handed, flying dunk was the silhouette-grade signature moment Thursday at The Elly.

But it also symbolized the play of his entire team as Florida Atlantic swept away SMU 80-70 on Sandstorm Night and buried the Mustangs’ six-game winning streak in a fresh dune.

Martin rose to the occasion—literally—in that unforgettable moment midway through the first half. Just as clearly, so did the rest of the Owls, start to finish, in a game that in three weeks could be an NCAA resume separator in their favor.

The aptly named Mustangs came to Boca having built their own case for NCAA consideration with a daunting blend of quickness, attacking mentality and physicality—especially physicality—that nobody in the American Athletic Conference had harnessed all month.

Cool, said the Owls.

Or in Martin’s words: “We love playing physical. We knew coming in they play fast and we play fast, (go) fast to the glass. We love playing that type of basketball.”

And so, in front of a national audience on ESPN2 and a jacked-up home crowd dressed wall-to-wall in sand-colored promotional t-shirts that matched the Owls’ sand-colored uniforms, FAU at least offset SMU in each of those areas. Thus did the Owls (21-6, 11-3 AAC) move from a third-place tie with SMU (19-8, 10-4) and into a second-place tie with Charlotte. Both trail first-place USF by two games with four to play.

“We had the focused look that we’ve been missing a bit of late,” Coach Dusty May said.

More significantly, the Owls held off a team looking to pull ahead of them in the NET rankings, an important factor in the NCAA selection process. FAU was 34th at tipoff, SMU 38th. The result moved FAU to 33rd in the updated Friday rankings and dropped SMU to 40th. The two may well be vying for the same at-large bid in the event neither earns the AAC’s automatic bid by winning  the conference tournament.

Vlad Goldin led FAU in scoring with 21 points and Martin had 20. Goldin also supplied the moment destined for a long life on social media and TV season highlight shows. What made it even better was that the lead-up sequence highlighted some of the biggest team reasons for FAU’s victory before Martin (pictured post-dunk via Bob Markey) touched the ball.

Not that you haven’t watched and re-watched Martin's spectacular and-one 100 times already—it landed at No. 1 on SportsCenter's Top 10—but the sequence began with FAU down by two with about 8 minutes until halftime and Brandon Weatherspoon overshot a 3 from the right corner.

May cited rebounding by FAU’s guards as a difference-maker, and guard Jalen Gaffney fished out Weatherspoon’s miss in the opposite corner, one of his team-high eight rebounds.

Another big edge for FAU was its 18-5 advantage in assists, and after Gaffney flipped the ball to Johnell Davis on the left wing, Davis found Martin at the top of the key for one of his team-high five assists.

Martin, of course, took it from there. First he easily shook his man with a sweet head-and-shoulder fake—a fitting birthday tribute to Chet “the Jet” Walker, the Hall of Fame forward who (as old-timers know) godfathered the move in the 1960s and ‘70s. But whereas Walker largely played below the rim, Martin—well, you know what happened next after he took off from the midpoint of the lane, the ball in his right hand.

Turns out that Martin knew what going to happen all along. And it was not going to be a finger roll.

“I’ve been mad at myself all year for missing finger-roll layups around the rim,” he said.

Then he switched the subject.

“Credit Johnell,” Martin said. “He made the extra pass.”

The dunk was one of several explosive moves by Martin, who was decisive with the ball all night. He wound up hitting eight of 14 shots, including three of FAU’s seven 3-pointers.

FAU’s 23 3-point tries accounted for just over one-third of its 66 total shots as the Owls took advantage of Goldin’s success all game at winning slugfests with SMU’s tall, physical bigs for prime position close to the rim. He scored just six baskets—some on thunderous dunks of his own—but was fouled repeatedly and hit nine of 10 free throws.

“We don’t get him the ball enough,” May said. “I thought Gaffney did a nice job of finding him on some angles. He got two or three that didn’t drop but he did generate fouls. His physicality, his hands and touch are disgusting(ly good) for a 7-foot-1 player.”

But FAU’s willingness to match SMU’s physicality didn’t begin and end with Goldin in the post. May also credited FAU’s guards with setting solid, effective screens off the ball.  They also were exceptional in snapping up rebounds. Gaffney, Martin (7), Weatherspoon (6), Davis (5), Bryan Greenlee (3) and Nick Boyd (1) combined for 30 of the Owls’ 38 rebounds and collectively came within one of equaling SMU’s team total.

May was so excited talking about how guard rebounds directly trigger the Owls’ running game that he had fun throwing in an allusion to the theme of the night.

"We can come at you in waves of transition,” he said. “We can generate a sandstorm of transition.”

Still, May said the real deciding factor Thursday was Goldin’s activity on defense. His two blocked shots don’t begin to explain his full impact.

“I thought his rim protection was the difference,” May said. “(He was) banged up in the middle of the year, and our rim protection suffered because of that. I thought tonight his instincts, his aggressiveness around the rim ultimately was the difference. When they got to the paint, he blocked a few and then they started shooting more and more mid-range shots.”

The lead bounced back and forth for most of the first half but FAU managed a 41-37 lead that might have been tighter if Brenen Lorient—who made several big defensive plays off the bench—hadn’t blocked a deep 3-pointer just before the half ended. The Owls gradually built the lead to 13 in the second half. The Mustangs never got closer than seven.

One new and effective twist for FAU was a 40 percent change to the starting lineup, with Weatherspoon replacing Boyd and Gaffney replacing Greenlee. Weatherspoon and Boyd each had nine points. Weatherspoon (shown above via Christian Proscia) had a two-handed dunk of his own, after driving from the left wing past multiple defenders, that would have challenged for play of the game on most other nights.

The main idea behind the lineup switch, May said, was to insert more perimeter length and ranginess for defensive purposes. But beyond that, May also said Boyd naturally clicks with backup post player Giancarlo Rosado when the two are paired on the floor. Last year, Rosado had a similar special connection with a guard off the bench, he said.

“Nick Boyd is a little like Mike Forrest was last year,” he said. “Nick and Rosado had really good chemistry. Look at G’s short-roll catches. A lot of them are from Nick.”

When May approached Boyd this week about switching roles from starter to bench, Boyd responded the same way Martin and Davis did last season when May made similar requests of them.

“Whatever you think we need,” Boyd told him.

And much like Forrest last year, May said Greenlee all but volunteered.

“He said, ‘I’ve had it rough these last couple of games. I actually was thinking of proposing I come off the bench,’ “ May said.

Back to Martin’s dunk one last time. It subordinated what until tipoff had been the biggest FAU-related national talking point of the day. A sourced report out of Columbus, Ohio, earlier Thursday said May has “engaged in preliminary conversations” with Ohio State, which is searching for a new coach for next season after firing Chris Holtmann. The Coaching Carousel preseason has begun and it isn’t uncommon for schools to reach out to gauge the interest of coaches at other schools. It becomes inconvenient when names like May’s become public.

It’s nothing new for May and the Owls. As far back as last January, while the Owls were running up their 20-game winning streak, May and his players learned that opposing recruiters were telling high school players FAU was pursuing that “the coach isn’t going to be there next year.”

“All I told the team (last year) is, ‘There’s nothing I can say. You know how much I love coaching here. You know how much I love you guys,” “ May said.

And the story Thursday? “I don’t know where this stuff originates, but there’s going to be a lot of job openings every year going forward,” he said.

“But 100 percent of our focus in our locker room is on this job, and doing the best we can with this job.”

Related content