By Robbie Lastella
FINAL: FAU 69 – Rice 56
FAU and Rice were engaged in a low scoring defensive battle in the first half, but FAU was up by 7 at the break and never looked back. Behind 18 points from Nick Boyd, and a barrage of clutch buckets from Alijah Martin and Johnell Davis in the second half, FAU was able to hold on and defeat their Owl foes 69-56.
“I feel like we are playing much better than we did a month ago. We had a really productive preconference where we played at a high level, but we didn’t do it as consistently as we needed to. We are still learning how difficult it is every night, getting a great effort from these conference opponents. It’s league play, every game means a lot. We talked with our team about it, rice should have probably been 4-1 instead of 1-4 based on how they played. It takes a little bit to develop a rhythm and flow, we’re getting back to our defensive identity… We are continuing to evolve and figure out the best way for us to play every week, but we are happy with where we are now though,” Coach Dusty May said after the game.
The first half started extremely slowly for both sides as through almost 9 minutes of play, both sides of Owls were shooting in the low 30s and the score was 9-7 in favor of Rice.
Things continued at a slow pace, but an and-1 from Nick Boyd gave the Owls a bit of momentum and their second lead of the day, 12-11 with 9:33 to play.
Not much was falling for either side but Nick Boyd who had 11 at the half was doing the best he could to keep FAU afloat, he hit back-to-back triples to end a drought and give FAU a 23-18 lead with 6:26 to play. After the game Boyd talked about his mindset, as he led the way early for the Owls.
“Just taking open shots and they went in. We are starting to find our groove a little bit, but I think we are light years from where we are going to be really soon. Just taking it day by day, slowly. I feel like everybody does the same (taking open shots) and whoever they drop for leads the way,” Boyd said.
Brandon Weatherspoon and Vlad got going towards the end of the half as well, providing 7 and 6 respectively at the break. FAU was able to ride a 9-2 run over the final 2 minutes of the first half to take a 33-26 lead into the locker room.
In the second half, after about a minute the offense started to get rolling for both sides but especially for FAU. Coach May described this game as a game of runs, and in similar fashion to how the first half ended, FAU got another 9-2 run in the first minutes of the second half and quickly had a 42-31 lead with 16:33 to play.
The lead held at double digits for an early majority of the second half, but with just under 10 minutes to play Rice went on a little bit of a run. Mekhi Mason finished with 13 for Rice and he had a few key buckets over a 2-minute stretch to help Rice cut the lead to 5, 53-48, with 6:45 to play. Following that, Rice was unable to capitalize and get it down to single digits, as the lead held at 5 before Nick Boyd scored off a screen and Alijah Martin hit a huge dagger triple to extend the Owls lead back to 10, 62-52, with 3:14 to play. After the game Coach May spoke on those 2 huge scores from Boyd and Martin and how they developed for FAU.
“It’s a game of runs, but I thought Nick had a great poise on the ball screen, he had a hesitation attacked, and had an easy basket, and then in transition he was able to find Alijah in the right corner. I thought Alijah had 2 or 3 looks like that throughout the game, they just didn’t drop… but he made the biggest one. I thought both of those plays were created by Nicks pace, and his poise and his confidence in his abilities,” Coach May said.
The final 3 minutes were smooth sailing for FAU, as the lead dropped to single digits a few times, but The Florida Owls were able to bounce back and cover the spread, defeating Rice 69-56.
Nick Boyd led the way for FAU as he finished with 18, while Nelly Davis and Alijah Martin were right behind him with 14 apiece. Outside of points, where FAU was able to be successful against a bigger Rice team was getting in the paint and winning the rebound battle. Rice’s center was able to take Vlad out of the paint, which meant that FAUs guards were going to battle with the bigs down low and compete for boards, which they were able to do.
“The stats speak volume. Nick had 3 (rebounds), he’s usually one of the best rebounding guards that I’ve coached. He has a great nose for the ball, his instincts know where it’s going, and he wants to go get it. Tonight, Nelly had 9, BJ had 5, Alijah had 8, and Spoon had 3. Our guards have to rebound like that, for us to maximize who we are as a group. It can’t change; the beautiful thing about when our guards rebound you don’t have to outlet it, and now you’re leading a break a second or 2 quicker as opposed to a big man rebounding it and out letting it than the guards have to go get it and it gives the defense time to get back. It’s part of our success in transition basketball, as our guards are really good rebounders,” Coach May said,
Slow start aside, there was a lot to like from FAU tonight. They were able to get an important solid offensive performance from one of their non main scorers in Nick Boyd, and the team was able to compete against a bigger rice team on the glass thanks to a team effort. All building blocks as the team looks to put themselves in a position to play their best basketball come March.
The next building block for FAU will come on Sunday as they face off against UNT at home in paradise. Another linear broadcast is on tap as the game will be streamed on ESPN 2 with returning announcers Mike Corey and Perry Clark expected to be on the call.