Florida Atlantic guard Nicholas Boyd reacts after a play during the second half of a Sweet 16 college basketball game against Tennessee in the East Regional of the NCAA tournament at Madison Square Garden, Thursday, March 23, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

FAU Advances to Elite Eight in Historic Season

Florida Atlantic University (FAU), a school that has only been competing in Division I for the last 30 years, is making headlines in the sports world after pulling off an upset victory over fourth-seeded Tennessee in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament. Before this year, the Owls had never won a tournament game.

The Owls used a second-half push led by Michael Forrest to secure a 62-55 win and are now just one victory away from the Final Four.

The greatest season in FAU history

Even before the tournament started, this was the unquestionably the greatest season in FAU history. The Boca Raton, Florida-based school won the Conference USA championship and earned its second-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament. But the Owls didn’t stop there.

They defeated Memphis, Fairleigh Dickinson University and, of course, Tennessee to reach the Sweet 16, and now they’re looking to take down Kansas State to make it to the Final Four.

When the horn sounded on the victory over Tennessee, Nick Boyd and Bryan Greenlee hopped onto the press row table to celebrate. Instead of going to the locker room, some of the Owls players made their way up into the stands to sing “New York, New York” with their fans.

It’s clear that this team is not only talented, but also has a strong connection with their supporters.

FAU’s scrappy and unbreakable team

“We’re just a scrappy group,” Boyd said. “Unbreakable.”

These words perfectly capture the spirit of this FAU team. They may not have the size or pedigree of some of their opponents, but they make up for it with their toughness, determination and never-say-die attitude.

Nick Boyd followed up with this statement following Thursday’s night win.

Second-half surge leads to victory

The game against Tennessee was slogging along at the Volunteers’ slow pace, with the No. 1 defense in the country making FAU work hard for shots. But then the Owls started hitting the 3-pointers they had been missing for much of the first 30 minutes.

Forrest made consecutive 3s to put FAU up 41-39 with 9:49 left, the Owls’ first lead since the opening minute. He then capped a personal 8-0 run with a driving layup that put the Owls up four. Meanwhile, Tennessee couldn’t buy a bucket, and had a six-minute stretch during which they scored just four points.

FAU’s physicality pays off

FAU coach Dusty May had compared Tennessee’s defensive physicality to rugby in the run-up to the game. He meant it as a compliment, and his Owls showed they could play tough, too.

“We feel like we’re physical as well,” Boyd said.

The Owls outrebounded the bigger Vols 40-36, including 12 offensive rebounds that they turned into 14 second-chance points. Despite being smaller, FAU played with a lot of heart and didn’t back down from the physical challenge.

Looking ahead to Kansas State

FAU will face third-seeded Kansas State in the East Region final at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. The Owls have never played Kansas State, but they’re confident they can take down another highly ranked opponent.

“Yeah, our guys definitely feel like they belong on this stage,” May said.

If they can continue to play with the same intensity and determination that got them this far, they have a real chance of making history and reaching the Final Four. One thing is for sure, they won’t back down, and May will make sure of that come Saturday.

About Kyle Curtis

A third-year journalism student with a focus in sports and media.

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