By Robbie Lastella
Boca Raton- FL The Crowd at Eleanor R. Baldwin Arena had some special guests in addition to its raucous student section on Thursday night. Jimmy Butler, Alexsander Barkov, Nolan Schanuel, Glen Rice, and Heat Broadcaster Eric Reid were all in attendance to see the FAU Owls comeback and defeat Wichita state 86-77.
The storyline however wasn’t the stars on the sidelines, it was the stars on the court. The Owls were led in this one by a dominating second half performance, outscoring the Shockers 55-35 in the second half and getting big performances from both Johnell Davis and Alijah Martin who scored 19 and 22 respectively.
The first half began with another slow start for the Owls, as the Shockers jumped out to a 7-0 lead before Bryan Greenlee hit a fast break layup to set the student section on fire early.
Wichita State brought the early offense that helped them to an early lead against Memphis and it did the same against the Owls today. Wichita State hit their first three 3 pointers, and the Shockers jumped out to a 13-4 lead at the first media break.
Wichita State came into this one near the bottom of the conference in forced turnovers, however through the first 7 minutes the Shockers forced 5 Owls turnovers and jumped out to a 17-6 lead with just under 14 minutes to play. After the game Coach May gave his thoughts on what contributed to the slow start tonight and what helped them bounce back in the second half.
“They are obviously a very confident group, and rightfully so. I do think this group is still developing a championship level trust of if I’m going to do this, you have my back, we’re not afraid to fail, we’re not afraid of a mistake, we’re not trying to be right and we’re just trying to get the job done. There were several times when these guys covered for each other, especially in the second half. But we were quick to the ball, I thought our rebounding, it became 5 guys fighting for the ball each possession. I don’t think that was necessarily the case in the first half, sometimes when you’re shooting so poorly that’s just how human nature works, and we’ve got to be able to overcome that so when the shots aren’t going in than we have got to find ways to be even grittier on the other side of the floor,” Coach May said.
Tre Carroll who had 8 first half points hit a top of the key triple and with 12:30 to play Alijah Martin converted an and-1 basket to cut the lead to 19-12 and start to shift momentum in favor of FAU.
Carroll, who finished with 10 points on the night, was maximizing his increase in minutes, and scored 5 straight and 8 out of 11 for the Owls during a stretch in the first half. He and Johnell Davis led a 10-3 run for FAU, and 5 straight points from Nelly left us tied at 22 with 8:45 to play in the first half. After the game Coach May gave his thoughts on Carroll’s performance tonight.
“The first half we were in a bit of a rut. He came in and gave us a jolt and some life. Scoring does that, rebounding does that, getting stops does that, there’s a lot of ways to impact a game and Tre impacted in scoring, I thought he helped our spacing. In the second half the shots weren’t falling, but right before he went out, he got a big offensive rebound and kicked it out to Alijah. Those are the impactful plays… those are the plays that give us momentum,” Coach May said.
A few possessions later Nick Boyd scored off a turnover, and fresh off the arrival of Heat star Jimmy Butler who showed up Midway through the half, the Owls had their first lead of the day 26-24 with just under 8 minutes to play in the half.
The teams traded blows down the final minutes of the first half, but the shockers who were on a 5-game losing streak coming into this one were not backing down and were being led by Quincy Ballard who had 10 at the half and was 3 off of his career high.
Wichita State went on a 12-0 run over the final minutes of the half and found their lead up to 9, 40-31, with just under a minute to play in the half and were in full control of momentum. One more bucket made it 42-31, and helped the Shockers close out the half on a 14-0 run. With FAU trailing by double digits at half, the team came together as one and after the game Alijah Martin explained the team’s mindset.
“We were just trying to pick up everything that we were doing, get more rebounds, get more steals. We knew going into the second half we weren’t going to shoot terribly again, we just put the trust in our work and dig it out, Martin said.
The second half started out with both teams trading baskets, until FAU went on a bit of a run. With a little over 16 minutes to play the Owls got a 3 pointer from Nick Boyd, and a ferocious rejection on the other end from Vlad Goldin, the building was rocking, and the lead was cut to 48-41.
The teams continued to go back and forth, but FAUs offense got rolling midway through the half. Johnell Davis had 8 points during the first 9 minutes of the 2nd half and Alijah Martin had 5 and helped the Owls cut the deficit to 59-56 with just over 11 minutes to play. Alijah and Johnell were the story in the second half for the Owls, as the two dominated together and hit consistent clutch baskets down the stretch, after the game Alijah gave his thoughts on what them dominating together means to the team.
“It just means we’re unstoppable. The offense fuels the defense, and we want to get where the defense fuels the offense. It just showed us that we’re unstoppable when both of us are clicking, Vlad clicking, Nick clicking, BJ… we’re going to need it from everyone,” Martin said.
As the story went all game, following that stretch of offense the teams went into a back and forth, until once again the Owls were ready to strike. FAU got three straight 3 pointers on the offensive end, 2 from Alijah Martin and 1 from Nick Boyd, and the Owls took only their second lead of the day, 69-66, with 5:30 to play. Martin had 16 second half points, but none bigger than the triple with 5:45 to play to give the Owls the lead for good and set the Elly Ablaze.
Wichita State battled down the stretch, getting it within 4 a few times but not being able to get within striking distance. Johnell Davis hit a three pointer with 2:06 to play, to put the Owls up 79-71 and give him 19 points on the night.
FAU closed the door over the final 2 minutes, and sent the fans home happy, winning 86-77 to improve to 4-1 in conference play, and 1-0 in front of Jimmy Butler. After the game, Alijah Martin gave his thoughts on Butler being in attendance, and how the team didn’t let that phase them.
“Much respect to Jimmy. When we saw him, we just know to try to play our brand of basketball and not get carried away and do extra stuff. Just play FAU brand basketball,” Martin said.
FAU will have a few days off before they head to Texas to take on UTSA on Sunday at 3 pm, which is game 1 of the Texas road trips as the Owls follow that up with a matchup against Rice in Houston next week.