FAU edges K-State 79-76, advances to Final Four as 9 seed
Field Level Media
Mar 25, 2023
NEW YORK -- Dusty May's team didn't see itself as an underdog, so his players wouldn't admit to it throughout the month of March, but Cinderella's slipper fit Florida Atlantic flawlessly.
If not underdogs, what do the Final Four-bound Owls prefer to be called?
"We (are) some pit bulls and Rottweilers, you know?" Alijah Martin said.
"They can say what they want, say we're a Cinderella team, say we don't belong," Bryan Greenlee added, "but we've constantly proven people wrong all season."
Now the ninth-seeded Owls are headed to their first Final Four in just their second-ever NCAA Tournament appearance after toppling third-seeded Kansas State 79-76 on Saturday in the East Region final at Madison Square Garden.
Martin scored 17 points, Greenlee scored 16 and Michael Forrest made four pivotal free throws at the end of the game. Vladislav Goldin posted 14 points and 13 rebounds and Johnell Davis had 13 points and eight rebounds as FAU had an enormous 44-22 rebounding advantage (14 offensive).
FAU (35-3) will face either fifth-seeded San Diego State or sixth-seeded Creighton, who play Sunday in the South Region final. The Owls will head to Houston on an 11-game winning streak.
FAU is the third No. 9 seed ever to make the Final Four, joining 2013 Wichita State and 1979 Penn, and the ninth team seeded No. 9 or lower to go this far.
This was the first tournament trip for May, the fifth-year head coach who got his start as an Indiana student manager under Bob Knight.
"In this era where everyone wants the whole pie, these guys continued sharing the pie every single day, and this was the result," May said. "Couldn't be more proud of a group who did it really together every single day."
Star guard Markquis Nowell scored 30 points and dished 12 assists for Kansas State (26-10). Nae'Qwan Tomlin had 14 points and Keyontae Johnson scored nine before fouling out.
Greenlee, who went 4-for-6 from the arc, drilled his fourth 3-pointer to slice the deficit in half at 60-57 with 9:04 left. Nowell responded by banking in his fourth 3 of the night at the other end, but Kansas State would not make a field goal for the next 6:52 of game time.
FAU scored the next 10 points, Goldin giving the Owls the lead for good at 64-63 with a rebound and dunk.
"I feel like that shot gave us a little momentum, but I don't feel like we got the defensive stops that we really needed," Nowell said. "I don't feel like we got key rebounds that we really needed. And give a lot of credit to FAU for getting every single 50-50 ball."
During a first half with eight lead changes and five ties, FAU used a 12-2 run to establish a six-point lead. The 7-foot-1 Goldin received the ball down low on four straight possessions, resulting in a dunk, a layup, an assist and two foul shots. The Owls led 42-38 at halftime.
Johnson, K-State's top scorer and rebounder, sat most of the final 12 minutes of the first half with two fouls but opened the second half with two buckets. He didn't last long, subbing out with four fouls with 14:10 to go and playing just 18 minutes in all.
Nowell ended the Kansas State shooting drought with 1:47 left when his fifth 3-pointer cut the margin to 72-69. FAU's Nick Boyd missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity but Martin got the offensive rebound and Davis scored for a five-point edge at 1:17.
Boyd went 1-of-2 at the line again, and Cam Carter's pull-up 3-pointer rolled in to bring Kansas State's deficit to 75-74 with 24 seconds left.
Kansas State gave its 10th foul and Forrest made both shots. Tomlin made a reverse layup to cut it back to one, but Forrest hit two more free throws and the Wildcats failed to get a shot off in the final 6.9 seconds.
"Once I saw the first one drop, I knew the second was gonna drop," Forrest said amid the jubilant postgame locker room. "And if I had to shoot more, I was gonna make them."
While few saw FAU's tournament success coming, the players who have stuck with May for multiple seasons -- like Forrest, a fifth-year senior -- have believed for a while.
"I remember when I first committed and I saw my locker, I wrote ‘March Madness' right on my nameplate, just so every day I could see it and realize that's my dream, that's the goal."
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