By Robbie Lastella
It took 2 rounds of free basketball and a whole lot of heart, but the Owls got it done. #14 FAU marched into the Sin City and battled hard for a 96-95 victory over #4 Arizona.
“I enjoy watching Arizona play. They play the game the right way, they are well coached, their players play together. They are such a tough matchup, so it shows we do have the ability to play with just about anyone,” Coach Dusty May said after the game.
The game started eerily similar to the St.Bonaventure game, as the Owls went about 6 minutes without converting a field goal during the early first half. FAU did not let that phase them and despite a Goldin injury, the Owls found a defensive game plan to limit Arizona in the paint and it worked.
The Owls trailed by as much as 14 early on in the first half but possession by possession they battled and stayed in the game. FAU, who loves to get out in transition, scored their first points off turnovers with 6:34 to play on a bucket from Nelly Davis. He followed that up with another basket on the next possession and the lead was cut to 3 with under 6 minutes to play in the first half. Nelly was dominant all night, finishing with 35 and after the game Coach Dusty May spoke on his ability to perform in big moments.
“If I could describe him in one word, it’s hooper. He’s never phased by the moment, by the stage, he’s added so much to his game. You saw the Mid-Post turnaround jumpers was something he didn’t have last year. It’s just hours and hours of work. I told him the first thing that came to my mind was seeing him in the morning at 7:30 am out on the floor shooting those shots and it was a result of his work. He puts a lot into the game, he loves basketball and he’s a great teammate but most importantly he’s an ultimate competitor. I don’t think I’ve been around someone that’s more competitive than him,” Coach May said.
Arizona’s lead fluctuated a bit over the final 6 minutes of the half, and without Vlad on the court FAU had to find ways to stay in the game despite the lack of height. Oumar Ballo had 14 rebounds and the Wildcats had a 9 rebound advantage at the break, but strong efforts from Giancarlo Rosado, Brennen Lorient and Tre Carroll helped the Owls immensely, and helped cut what was a 14 point deficit down to 6. Arizona led 37-31 at the half, but there was a palpable buzz in the building that FAU wasn’t out of it.
The second half started out with a familiar site for FAU, a 3 pointer for Brandon Weatherspoon which got the Owls rolling. FAU was able to continue their strong defensive effort, limiting entry passes for Arizona which made things difficult for the Wildcats and allowed FAU to get their offense rolling. The Owls took their first lead of the game early in the second half, using a 9-4 run out of the gates and a Vlad Goldin Alley-Oop to lead 43-41 with 17:18 to play.
The second half from that point on was a sea-saw affair, with FAU jumping out to an 8 point lead with a little over 12 minutes to play. Arizona responded to that with 5 straight points of their own and the teams were going blow for blow.
Everything was falling during that stretch for Johnell Davis who scored 9 points over a 3 minute stretch, hitting pull up jumpers all over the court and having an answer for Arizona every step of the way. The Owls were also helped by key shots from Alijah Martin and Jalen Gaffney down the stretch.
In the same way that Davis had answers for FAU, Caleb Love had answers for Arizona. Putting early struggles behind him, he hit a few buckets down the stretch including a 3 pointer with 1:13 to go which gave Arizona a 2 point lead.
Things were looking grim for FAU down the final minute, but the Owls battled on the final possession. FAU got an offensive rebound off of a Davis miss and found Vlad for a flush which tied the game and led the game to its first overtime period of the day tied at 73.
The first overtime started out with Vlad Goldin fouling out on the first possession of the period for Arizona. This could have been detrimental to FAU, but the Owls came prepared with strong play from Giancarlo Rosado, who stepped up when Goldin went down with injury and was ready to do it again over the final 2 periods. After the game Coach May talked about Vlad’s foul trouble and the strong play of Rosado.
“Well he (Vlad) is in Foul trouble a lot. We’re still trying to figure out different ways to protect him but Giancarlo Rosado is a heck of a basketball player. He has a lot of blood sweat and tears invested into this program but he doesn’t get a lot of the accolades but if you took him away from our team it wouldn’t look anything like this. It’s a product of him always being ready, and sacrificing for the team. But he can play like this frequently if he had the opportunity he just happens to share it with Vlad,” Coach May said.
Following the Goldin injury, the Owls and Johnell Davis continued their strong play. Nelly continued to hit turnaround jumper after turnaround jumper and Alijah Martin hit a key triple to give the Owls a 3 point lead with under 2 minutes to go. The teams traded blows and FAU led for a majority of the period, but Caleb Love was able to draw a foul on the last possession of the first overtime for Arizona- he hit both free throws and the game went to double OT tied at 84.
More basketball was not in the Owls favor, as they were down Vlad against a much bigger team and had a few players with 3-4 fouls. FAU was going to have to continue to play physically but without fouling and that’s exactly what they were able to do.
The second overtime was the Nelly and Gaffney show, as the 2 combined for all but three of the Owls points over the final 5 minutes of the ballgame. FAU jumped out to a 5 point lead with 2 minutes to go, but Arizona scored 5 straight and left the game tied at 95 with 1:27 to play. Giancarlo Rosado fought hard in the paint over the final 2 periods and with just under a minute to go he got to the line, hit 1 out of 2 and gave FAU a 96-95 lead. Arizona would have one last chance at the basket with 6 seconds to go.
FAU lined up against Arizona with a 5 guard lineup for the final possession and the Wildcats were able to get it to their guy in Caleb Love. The Owls pressured Love and forced a missed shot, Davis grabbed the board and after 10 free minutes of basketball- it was over, FAU won 96-95. After the game, Coach May spoke on the teams game plan going into the final possession.
“They had a lot of success getting down hill and when they got down hill they were able to break our shell and then get the rebounds. So we went small, just so we could keep it in front and stay balanced and fortunately for us our guys were very loud on the switch and they had a great contest at the end,” Coach May said.
It was a great comeback victory for the Owls, and one that they will be able to look back on and learn a lot about themselves from. It is the first time in program history they beat a ranked top 10 opponent and that is something to be proud of.
Coach May won’t allow his guys to be too proud. Expect them to be back in the gym shortly after the holiday to prepare for FGCU on December 30th, which is the Owls final game of the Non-Conference schedule.