NEW YORK — Yes, the Florida Atlantic University Owls’ main goal on Thursday night was to advance to the Elite Eight — a feat the FAU men’s basketball team had never done in the 30 years of competing in Division I NCAA basketball. But the Owls had another reason to want to upset the Tennessee Volunteers at Madison Square Garden too.
And that was hometown pride for FAU guard Nick Boyd, whose hometown of Garnerville, N.Y. is only 44 miles from MSG and who played his high school basketball in New Jersey. The Owls did just that in a 62-55 win over the Volunteers in the Sweet 16 and part of their motivation had been to get Boyd a victory inside the building he had dreamed of playing in when he was younger.
“I only told him we wasn’t losing in New York because he’s from New York,” guard Brandon Weatherspoon told amNewYork inside a raucous FAU locker room. “I’m not allowing him to lose in his hometown. I’m gonna go off for him. I’m gonna run through that wall for him.”
When asked if that was an extra push, Weatherspoon replied that it went beyond that.
“That’s our brother, you know, his family here. His people are here and we know he wants to put on a show for his people. So whatever he wants to do and whatever we want to do, we gonna do it,” Weatherspoon said.
The Owls did just that as they used a second-half surge to beat Tennessee on the biggest stage they’ve ever played on. Boyd finished the night with 12 points and eight rebounds, and the local got to have his MSG moment.
When the buzzer finally sounded Boyd was so jubilant that he jumped onto the press row table in celebration. The moment was made sweeter by the fact that he had the current group of players at FAU with him.
“These my brothers. Like not just brothers, like real brothers you know,” Boyd said. “When we go out there we playing for each other. I mean, you see everybody staying together always and we never separated no matter if we win or lose, and we know if we lose, if we win, no matter what we got each other.”
The Owls’ run to the Elite Eight has become one of the Cinderella stories of the NCAA Tournament, with 16-seed FAU having topped No. 8 Memphis in the first round and then handily taking down Fairleigh Dickinson University in the second round. The win over Memphis was the Owls’ first in the NCAA Tournament and came courtesy of a game-winning basket by Boyd.
But the Garden had been a building that Boyd dreamed of playing in since he watched his uncle Fred Hill coach there in the Big East Tournament. Hill, along with roughly 50 friends and family, was on hand for Thursday’s upset of Tennessee.
And yes, the moment lived up to what Boyd had envisioned in his head.
“Once I stood on the table it was everything,” Boyd said. “That’s all I wanted to do as a kid. You know, you’re playing in the driveway and I used to hop on my mom’s car after counting the buzzer down and hitting the game-winner in the driveway. So that was everything for me.”