By Robbie Lastella
FAU Owls 112 – UTSA Road Runners 103
Coming back from big deficits has become a recurring theme for #23 ranked FAU, and against UTSA on Sunday afternoon it was the theme once again. The Owls who trailed by as much as 16 early on, were never phased. Led by Johnell Davis, who had 34, and Alijah Martin, who had 26, FAU came back and defeated the Road Runners in Overtime 112-103.
“We had guys that made big plays, whether it was hustle plays off the rebound, whether it was a big shot or great pass. They believe in each other, and they really have a high level of trust that the next guy is going to make a play. Obviously, Nelly makes a lot of plays down the stretch, but the attention he received, and Alijah received late were the reason I thought Weatherspoon, Nick, and Vlad got a couple baskets. Just a great team effort, UTSA played really well, they had a great gamelan, they had us on our heels for about 35 minutes. I feel bad for Coach Henson, he’s been in several of these games, they could go either way,” Coach Dusty May said after the game.
As it has been of late, FAU started this game facing a team in UTSA that came out of the gates extremely hot. They hit their first 3 shots, all three pointers and the Road Runners, in less than 2 minutes jumped out to a 9-0 lead and forced Coach Dusty May into an early timeout.
The offense got rolling for FAU shortly thereafter, and the Owls needed it as UTSA came out and hit 5 out of their first 6, leaving FAU needing a response. Alijah Martin hit his first 2 triples, and his second cut the deficit to 13-11 with 15:25 to play in the first half.
The Road Runners responded with a 9-2 run of their own to open the lead back up to 9, 22-13 with 12:54 to play. The Road Runners came out hitting 66% of their shots early, and as expected FAU found themselves in a conference dogfight.
UTSA put their foot on the gas after that, and they were led by Jordan Ivy-Curry who had 10 early points. Everything was falling early for the Road runners, as with just over 9 minutes to play, they were approaching 70% from the field and opened up a 16-point lead, 36-20 over FAU. After the game, Coach May explained why he thought Ivy-Curry was so successful tonight.
“I thought their bigs set some really good screens for him. I thought he made some nice passes out of the pick and roll. Just his ability to shoot off the catch, and I thought he shot well off the bounce tonight and mix in his natural ability to draw fouls. Like Nelly here, they have a good feeling of when the defender is off balance or not in a good position so then they are able to use that to their advantage, but he’s a tough cover and he had a heck of a game,” Coach May said.
That was as big as it was going to be for UTSA as following that, the game began to get close. Johnell Davis was a big part of that, as he scored 8 straight for FAU, following the 16-point deficit and helped the Owls cut into it.
FAU seemed to get a jolt of energy following a double foul on Vlad and UTSA player Trey Edmonds. The Owls went on a 10-4 run following that double foul and capped it off with another 3 from Nelly. That was his 3rd three of the half to give him 13 at the break, cutting the lead to 42-38 with 5:12 to play.
The teams traded blows down the final 5 minutes, as Ivy-Curry was rolling for UTSA and Brandon Weatherspoon who finished with a season high 21, hit a few key baskets for the Owls. FAU didn’t allow a field goal over the final 2:40 of the first half, and went into the break trailing by 4, 53-49. After the game, Coach May talked about Weatherspoons early contributions to this game.
“He settled us in, I thought he had great energy. We were struggling in the first half, and he made some big shots to settle us down and he was great throughout. I thought he got some big-time rebounds, just overall his intensity and tenaciousness was extremely important for us today,” Coach May said.
The second half started out with 2 straight baskets for FAU, and quickly the Owls regained the lead 54-53 with 17:47 to play in the ballgame. UTSA went on an 8-2 run following that, and FAU responded to that run with back-to-back triples from Boyd and Weatherspoon, and the UTSA lead was cut to 1, 64-63, with 12:46 to play.
A back-and-forth battle ensued following that stretch, as over the next 5 minutes, Ivy-Curry scored 5 and Johnell Davis scored 6, and the game remained within one possession, but an Alijah Martin 3 from the logo left the game tied at 74 with 7:13 to play.
This conference battle was going to go down to the wire, as no team was able to open up a big lead the rest of the way, and the back-and-forth affair which has been the story all year for FAU, continued.
The teams exchanged leads all the way down the remainder of the game, and with just under a minute to play UTSA held an 89-88 lead as Nick Boyd stepped up to the line with a chance to give FAU the lead with under a minute to play. He missed both, and on the next possession the Road Runners went up 3 and FAU was going to have one chance to tie the ball game.
Johnell Davis who finished with 34 on the night, had the ball in his hands on that possession, went around a screen from Goldin at the top of the key, drew a foul on the shot, and with ice in his veins he knocked down all 3 free throws to tie the game at 91. FAU held on the final defensive possession, and the game went to overtime tied at that same score. After the game Johnell talked about his mindset going into those 3 critical free throws.
“I just try to stay calm and not worry about anything. Nothing was going through my mind, just taking a deep breath and just finding the spot I usually shoot at the free throw line and 3 of them happened to go in,” Davis said.
Overtime started out with UTSA jumping out to a 3-point lead and seemingly grabbing a hold of momentum as the period started, however that changed quickly. Following that run, FAU scored 9 straight and 6 straight from Martin helped FAU take a 102-96 lead with 3:02 to play and they never looked back. Martin hit another triple with 1:31 to play to give him 26 on the night and give FAU a 106-99 lead with 1:31 to play. That was the inevitable dagger, as the Owls closed the door on the Road Runners down the stretch and finished this one off for their 4th straight win.
Alijah Martin, who has been a bit streaky shooting wise to start this season has now had back-to-back dominating performances and after the game Coach May talked about what had led to that.
“I’m pleased with how he’s attacking the rim and getting some and 1s and some easy baskets and I thought that opened up his 3-point shot later. I thought he attacked the rim throughout the game. The things that stand out about his game today, the free throw rebound was big. I thought he had a couple fouls that I think were uncharacteristic of Alijah when they weren’t in scoring position. I thought he made really big defensive plays, hustle plays, even a couple rebounds in overtime. When you jump as high as he does and you’re as strong as he is, this team needs him to go get some of those 50/50 basketballs,” Coach May said.
FAU completed another massive comeback on the road and continued to become one of the most battle tested teams in the country. FAU will have a few days off before they are back in action, this time in Houston taking on Rice on Wednesday evening at 8 pm.