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Inside Florida Atlantic’s run to the Final Four in March Madness

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All season, the Florida Atlantic Owls never wavered.

The Owls were ranked fifth in the Conference-USA preseason poll, behind teams like Middle Tennessee State, yet they never wavered.

Entered the NCAA Tournament as a No. 9 seed — underseeded despite being 31-3, winning Conference USA in the regular season and the conference tournament — being ranked at one point in the top 25, and being one of the only teams in KenPom’s top 30 offense and defense rankings, yet never wavered.

Scoring a meager 22 points in the first half against Tennessee, one of the most physical teams in the country, in the Sweet 16. The Owls never wavered.

On Saturday, Kansas State roared out of halftime to a 57-50 lead, and started the half on a 19-8 run. The Owls had 12 turnovers at halftime, and star Wildcats guard Markquis Nowell was beginning to heat up.

Yet, they never wavered.

That’s just FAU basketball.

“I think that basketball is a game of runs,” said FAU center Vlad Goldin. “They made a couple threes, we just knew we’re going to make it eventually. We weren’t worried about the shots not going in at the time. We just keep playing our basketball.”

The Owls brand of basketball is team oriented, and despite going down to a dangerous No. 3 seed in Kansas State at Madison Square Garden, they knew that the makeup of their team would be enough to push them to a win. Four Owls scored in double digits today, led by sophomore guard Alijah Martin with 17 points. Goldin added 14 points and 13 rebounds, and junior guard Bryan Greenlee poured in 16 points of his own. “We came into it with a chip on our shoulder,” Martin said. “We’ve got eight, nine guys the are contributing and stepping up every night.”

“If you Wiki the word team, it would be a picture of our guys,” FAU head coach Dusty May said postgame. “They’re going to have a special bond forever.”

FAU isn’t just some overnight success, no. This isn’t a lightning in a bottle situation where a double digit loss team catches fire in the tourney. These Owls were built within the confines of “The Burrow”, playing anyone and everyone they could. Head coach Dusty May knew this team was special from the jump, from defeating the Florida Gators in Gainesville, to scrimmaging the now Division 2 national champions Nova Southeastern. “[Nova Southeastern] is the best pressing, hardest playing team we’ve ever seen,” May said. “When we beat them in a scrimmage, we said we’ve got a chance to be pretty darned good.”

For Florida Atlantic, a university that played their first men’s basketball season in 1988, this moment is monumental. A university that has only been open since 1964 has a program that is two wins away from being national champions. For May and FAU, this moment means so much more. “One of the reasons I took [the job] was because it was the right place at the right time, and it’s growing exponentially,” he said. “I still remember being a child watching the ‘87 Hoosiers and because of that, I became a fan forever. So we’ve never had our moment, and when we made the tournament this year and we won a very tough league — if you look around and really study our league, a tough league — we felt like this could be our moment to really captivate an area, a fan base, a student body. And I think we’ve exceeded that moment, but there’s no reason why we wouldn’t just continue to ride this wave.”

As the confetti flew down on the Owls, and the nets began to get cut down, one thing became certain: these Owls are meant to be here, in this moment. This team is meant to be headed to Houston for the Final Four. People will call them Cinderella or say they don’t belong, but Martin prefers a different name.

“We’re just some pit bulls and rottweilers,” Martin said at first, but then changed his mind. “Just call us Beach Boys, because we’re going to come out and show you how it’s done.”

Source : SBNation

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