WHAT A HOOT! FAU clinches Final Four berth for first time in program history at MSG

Florida Atlantic players celebrate after defeating Kansas State in an Elite 8 college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament’s East Region final, Saturday, March 25, 2023, in New York.
AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

NEW YORK — Madison Square Garden turned into an owl’s nest as the FAU Owls defeated the Kansas State Wildcats 79-76 to punch the program’s ticket to the Final Four for the first time ever. 

In what had been a frequent story in the first two games played at Madison Square Garden, the Owls and Wildcats put on a classic as the two teams traded baskets and took things down to the wire. In the end, it came down to free throws in the final minute of the game that sealed things for the Owls. 

After Cam Carter knocked down a huge three to cut FAU’s lead to 75-74, K-State quickly fouled to send Michael Forrest to the line. As the Kansas State fans erupted trying to throw him off his game he sunk both shots to put the Owls up by three with 17 seconds left. 

Nae’qwan Tomlin made a quick layup to cut it to one with eight seconds left and another quick foul sent Forrest back to the line, where he hit both freet throws. FAU managed to force Ismael Massoud to lose his handle on the ball and the final buzzer sounded.

“It feels amazing,” Alijah Martin said. “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.”

The Owls’ players ran onto the floor in celebration as Markquis Nowell and the Wildcats walked off the floor. The win was an amazing feat for a program that had made just a single NCAA tournament appearance and only won its first game in the Big Dance this year.  

“Yeah, it’s pretty surreal. It’s a lot of excitement,” Bruan Greenlee said. “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.”

Alijah Martin had a team-high 17 points for the Owls. Bryan Greenlee finished 16 points and shot 4-of-6 from three-point range and Johnell Davis finished the game with 13 points, eight rebounds and six assists. 

Big man Vladislav Goldin had 13 rebounds. 

Nowell, a New York City native, had another superstar performance with 30 points. Tomlin, a fellow New Yorker, had 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting. 

Florida Atlantic’s Alijah Martin (15) shoots over Kansas State’s David N’Guessan (3) in the first half of an Elite 8 college basketball game in the NCAA Tournament’s East Region final, Saturday, March 25, 2023, in New York.AP Photo/Adam Hunger

“I’m very grateful. I had a tremendous year with my teammates and my coaching staff,” Nowell said about K-State’s run. “Had a lot of fun. Just looking back at how hard we worked to get to this point, man, I’m just thankful for the journey. I’m thankful for my teammates and everybody behind the scenes. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

The Owls came out of the opening tipoff with a three from Greenlee, but it would take another two and half minutes before another basket was scored, with Keyontae Johnson getting the Wildcats onto the board. Cam Carter gave the Wildcats the lead briefly with 17:54 left in the first half before Alijah Martin gave the Owls the lead back with a posterizing dunk to make it a 5-4 game. 

FAU and Kansas State continued to trade baskets before K-State was finally able to break free for a short period of time. Nowell managed to complete the driving layup and draw a foul to send him to the line and put the Wildcats up by four. 

However, a jumper from inside the paint by Forrest and a layup from Giancarlo Rosado tied the game back up at 16 with 12:42 left in the first half. 

A 6-2 run by FAU put them up 24-18, but a 12-7 run by the Wildcats put them back in the lead with 5:27 left. But The Owls managed to regain control as the half wound down and went into halftime with a 42-38 advantage. 

Kansas State opened the second half swinging with Johnson hitting a big jumper and then causing a turnover that turned into a Tomlin layup to put the Wildcats ahead by two. After FAU had regained a small lead, K-State put up eight straight points that saw David N’Guessan make a layup and back-to-back threes from Nowell and Johnson to make it 52-47.

When Greenlee hit a big three to cut the Wildcats’ lead to just two, Nowell answered with one of his own and gestured to the roaring Madison Square Garden crowd as he ran back up the floor. 

They took their largest lead of the half when Tomlin extended their advantage to 57-50 with a layup. 

But the Owls, who refused to be labeled a Cinderella in this tournament, kept clawing their way back into the game. Goldin and Johnell Davis each hit jumpers to cut the deficit to three and Greenlee cut it back down to three with a massive three with 9:04 left in the game after K-State had extended it back to six.

Nowell made it a six-point game yet again after another three, but FAU quickly erased that. First Goldin hit a hook shot and then Brandon Weatherspoon’s pull-up three with 7:03 left made it a 63-62 Kansas State lead. 

It was Goldin who gave FAU a one-point lead with 6:12 on the clock and Davis who made it a three-point lead moments later. The Owls extended their second-half lead to eight later in the period when Martin knocked down a three and then drew a foul, hitting both free throws.

However, the Wildcats continued to counter-punch and stay in the game. 

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