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College Basketball

FAU Stayed Calm All The Way To The Final Four

10:13 AM EDT on March 26, 2023

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 25: Giancarlo Rosado #3 of the Florida Atlantic Owls celebrates after defeating the Kansas State Wildcats during the Elite Eight round of the 2023 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament held at Madison Square Garden on March 25, 2023 in New York City.
Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

NEW YORK — Florida Atlantic took Kansas State’s best shot. The Owls counterpunched with the best of them. FAU held K-State scoreless for nearly eight minutes late in the second half and held on to beat the Wildcats, 79-76. A team that had never won a men’s basketball tournament game won the East Regional and advanced to the Final Four.

The decisive stretch came with FAU down six with a little over eight minutes left. Markquis Nowell, who was named Most Outstanding Player of the regional, had hit an impressive step-back jumper. K-State had outscored FAU by 10 in the second half. It was looking like the Wildcats might pull away.

The Owls didn’t let them. Vladislav Goldin hit a hook shot inside. Brandon Weatherspoon hit a fast break three after Goldin forced Nowell into an awkward shot on a driving layup. Then Goldin gave FAU the lead for good with a follow dunk off a missed three. Three free throws later it was a 10-0 run that K-State could not recover from.

“A lot of times people might try to hit home runs to close that lead,” FAU’s Bryan Greenlee said. “And we don’t really get rattled in situations where we’re down. We’ve been in too many of them.” Goldin had similar thoughts: “I think that basketball is a game of running, so they score, we score, they score. 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.”

Goldin, a 7-1 center who transferred from Texas Tech after playing in just 10 games his freshman year, had 14 points and 13 rebounds in the game—including six on the offensive glass. He drew six fouls. On the defensive end he prevented the Wildcats from getting many second-chance opportunities. Nowell, who had 30 points and 12 assists, was just 3-for-10 on two-pointers. The 5-8 guard could not get good looks over Goldin. K-State isn't a particularly great rebounding team—coming into the game, 121 teams had a better offensive rebounding percentage—but they were outrebounded 44-22 in the game. Kansas State had just five offensive boards. FAU outscored them in 15-2 on second-chance points.

“That was the key,” K-State’s Desi Stills said. “They got two clutch offensive rebounds at the free-throw line. We forgot got to block out—that’s just effort out there. They won the 50/50 balls tonight.”

It did not help that Keyontae Johnson only played 18 minutes. He is the Wildcats best rebounder on the defensive glass. But he picked up two fouls in the first half and sat the final 12 minutes. He kept picking them up in the second, and didn’t get to play much more. “Keyontae played 18 minutes,” K-State coach Jerome Tang said, “and that’s why he was neutralized.”

Goldin was dominant in the first half. The Owls led by four because he had 8 points and 8 boards in the first 20 minutes. He drew 4 fouls and blocked 2 shots. He even had 2 assists. Kansas State played him better in the second half. On his crucial follow dunk he did bang into Stills, who hit the ground. But no foul was called.

“Rebounding has been an issue for us all year, and we tried to make it tough for them,” Tang said. “We tried to front them. They did a great job of lobbing it over to him. He did a good job of scoring some buckets. I didn’t think he was the difference.”

Tang has a point. He did have just 14 points. The Owls spread it around. Alijah Martin had 17. Greenlee was 4-for-6 on threes; he had 16. Johnell Davis, who had a record-setting performance in the Round of 32, scored 13. Eight guys played more than 15 minutes.

The Wildcats did have a few chances at the end. They made it a one-point game twice in the final 30 seconds. But Michael Forrest, who shoots 73 percent from the line, made two FTs each time. FAU was able to run more clock because they run the football inbounds play. K-State runs it too, but they were not able to defend it. They ran off five seconds the first time they tried it. They ran off another two seconds the next time. After Forrest hit his second pair of FTs, only six seconds remained in the game. Kansas State did not get a good look. They did not even get a shot off. The celebration was on for FAU.

“I was trying to get [Ismael Massoud] a shot,” Nowell said. “Coach wanted Ish to set the screen, and I waved it off because I felt like on the right side of the court—that’s where Ish hits most of his shots. And they closed out hard to him, and he didn’t get off a shot.”

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