On Thursday night, the 9-seeded Florida Atlantic Owls (34-3) made history, earning a trip to their first Elite Eight after defeating the 4-seeded Tennessee Volunteers (25-11) by a score of 62-55.
In a matchup that many people never saw coming, the Owls were able to hold the Volunteers and dance their way into the Elite Eight.
WE ARE ELITE!!! pic.twitter.com/Ow8yEp5RUJ
— FAU Men's Basketball (@FAUMBB) March 24, 2023
The Owls got off to a rough start early in the first half, unable to find the basket, going down by as much as 17-8. Throughout the rest of the half, the Owls were able to climb back into the game, only down five going into halftime.
Florida Atlantic was able to spark a strong second half in which they outscored the Volunteers 40-28 behind a 15-point and 6-rebound game from sophomore Johnell Davis. The Owls made a pair of three-pointers with 9:49 left, giving FAU their first lead since the opening of the game. It capped an 8-0 run by senior Michael Forrest to put the Owls up by 4.
Down the stretch, the Owls were able to match the Volunteers’ possessions, never letting Tennessee get as close as 5 points.
It was a magical moment once the buzzer sounded for a Florida Atlantic team that has only made one prior tournament appearance (2002) and never had a tournament game win before this season.
Former Gators Assistant Dusty May has a 100-59 record as the head coach of the Owls. When asked about his team, May said “They love to compete, they love the game and they love each other.” Prior to the season the Owls never won 20 games under May and thus far have 34 wins with the potential of three more on their run towards a National Championship.
Journey's end. pic.twitter.com/hDjyaREsIZ
— Tennessee Basketball (@Vol_Hoops) March 24, 2023
The Volunteers started hot, leading the Owls by as many as nine points, but fizzled out late in the game. Tennessee shot 33% from the field, going 6-23 on three-point shots.
During the game, the Volunteers only scored four points in a six-minute span, which the Owls exploited. Senior Josiah—Jordan James hit a late 3-pointer to cut the lead to five with 3:33 left, but FAU was able to get a key stop to put the Vols’ away.
Tennessee was outrebounded 40-36 by the Owls, who converted 12 of those rebounds into 14 points. The Vols’ were never able to get anything started on offense or defense in the second half, which led to the upset.
The Volunteers were without star sophomore Zakai Zeigler who tore his ACL against Arkansas on February 28th. Tennessee finishes the season 7-8 since the beginning of February.
Head coach Rick Barnes was looking to get back to the Elite Eight for the second time in his storied career after never making it to the Final Four. The Vols’ were led by sophmore Jonas Aidoo and senior Josiah-Jordan James who scored 10 points each in the loss.
The Owls will face the #3 seed Kansas State Wildcats (26-9), who beat the #7 seed Michigan State Spartans 98-93 in an overtime thriller.
The Owls will look to continue their Cinderella story by making it to the Final Four for the first time in program history. Kansas State will attempt to advance for the first time since 1964. The game will tip off Saturday night on TBS.