NEW YORK — At the stroke of midnight the Florida Atlantic University Owls didn’t turn back into a pumpkin. In fact, they may just be the belle of the ball at this point, but don’t expect any of the Owls players to embrace being this year’s NCAA Tournament Cinderella story.
In reality, FAU has been far from a Cinderella when you look at what they’ve done this season. The Owls had the best record in the country going into Saturday night’s Elite Eight matchup and rolled through Conference USA teams during their tournament.
Now they’re on their way to Houston with a date in the Final Four.
“You know, they’re going to label us whatever, but we’re some pit bulls and rottweilers,” Alijah Martin said. “We go out there and show it every night. Just label — just call us beast boys, you know, because we’re going to come out and show you how it’s done.”
For a team without many stars, FAU gave it as good as the Kansas State Wildcats did on the Madison Square Garden floor. They dominated along the glass and shot nearly 50% as a team.
The Owls outscored the Wildcats 15-2 in second-chance points as well on Saturday. And when K-State punched, FAU took it on the chin and then punched right back.
“We don’t really listen to the outside noise too much,” Bryan Greenlee said. “Honestly, all the things people say just fuels us to go out there and play even harder. They can say whatever they want, say we’re a Cinderella team, say we don’t belong, but we’ve constantly proven people wrong all season.”
That likely won’t be going away anytime soon as they embark on their trip to Houston next weekend. In the leadup to the Elite Eight showdown at The World’s Most Famous Arena, the focus had all been on Kansas State star and New York Native Markquis Nowell.
Martin admitted that they had seen some of the headlines and the focus on Nowell, and used that as motivation.
“Yeah, we came into it with a chip on our shoulder, and of course shout-out to Markquis,” he said. “He’s a great player, and going into it we just wanted to shut him down, but he still put up crazy stats. And we were just able to overcome that because we’ve got eight guys over here that’s — eight, ten, whatever, I can’t count. But eight guys that’s contributing and can step up any night.”
That’s what made FAU so dangerous this season and gave Kansas State headaches.
Nowell was the clear star going into Saturday’s game, but game planning for a team that has a number of players that can shoot is tough. Martin put up a team-high 17 points in the win and Greenlee finished with 16 while fouling out in the final four minutes of the game.
Nick Boyd came up big in the win over Tennessee in the Sweet 16.
“When you draw up plays with X’s and O’s, on some teams, all the O’s don’t have to be guarded so you can put your X’s in the right spot to make it hard for the team to score on offense. Every one of his O’s can score the ball, and that’s what makes it hard to guard. It doesn’t matter if they can score 30; they can all shoot, they can all dribble, they can all pass, and that puts your defense in a bind,” Wildcats coach Jeremy Tang said after the game.
The run that the Owls have had is one that they expected, even though others may not have.
And for FAU head coach Dusty May it comes down to the closeness the team has.
“This group would have had a special bond forever if we would have gotten knocked out in the conference tournament and not made the tournament,” he said. “It’s who they are. Like I said before, it’s awesome to see a group of guys that deserve this 100 percent for it to happen for them.”