By Robbie Lastella
Springfield, Mass- A slow first half had Owls fans on the edge of their seats, but the Owls on the court were never phased. FAU used a strong second half and 16 points from Johnell Davis to put the slow start behind them and defeat St.Bonaventure 64-54.
“We’re extremely happy to head back to Florida with a gritty win under our belt,” Coach Dusty May said after the game.
Gritty is about the only way one could describe that first half, as the Owls went almost 7 minutes without scoring early on, but they were never out of it. FAU trailed by 10 at points, had some questionable turnovers, and struggled with the physicality from Chad Venning. However, the Owls were able to force some turnovers of their own and slow down the Bonnies offense and it kept them in the game. Coach May spoke on his team’s ability to bounce back and stay in the game.
“St.Bonaventure came out early and played with unbelievable physicality. They had us on our heels a little bit and our guys responded and we got great contributions from a lot of guys,” Coach May said.
That aforementioned response was 6 points off turnovers, a signature Giancarlo Rosado turnaround jumper, and 5 straight points from Bryan Greenlee over the final 5 minutes of the first half to take a 27-26 lead into the half. Despite the strong end to the first half, momentum was up in the air.
The second half started out with St.Bonaventure jumping out to a 5 point lead and left FAU needing a response with 13:56 left to play. That response was started by Nick Boyd scoring his first basket since returning and sparking an 8-2 run, capped off by 2 Vlad Goldin dunks and igniting the Owls to a 42-41 lead with 10:28 to play. After the game, Goldin gave his thoughts on how he and the team were able to adjust following a slow first half.
“It takes time to get used to it, how he’s playing, what does he do. But after we adjusted, we just take what the game gives us,” Goldin said.
Those 2 Goldin dunks were a part of another run for the Owls, this time a 12-0 total run to put the Owls up 52-41 with 7:21 to play. Boyd was able to hit his first 3 pointer since returning during that run and after the game Coach May talked about how his energy played a role tonight.
“Great positive energy, he brought life to us. He still didn’t have the rhythm he is going to have later on. Just another threat on the floor, makes everyone more difficult to guard. He is one of our best finishers at the rim and got a really good knack getting downhill with his left hand. I think those baskets caused them to overreact a little bit later and got us some good clean looks after that,” Coach May said.
The Owls played tough defense down the stretch, allowing only 13 points over the final 7 minutes and when things got a bit close down the stretch, Coach May called on a full court press. The Bonnies didn’t have an answer for the pressure all game, and after the game Johnell Davis spoke on how that was a part of the game plan tonight for the Owls.
“We knew from the game plan we had to put pressure on them. Coach stressed it a lot during the Thursday and Friday practices and we came out there and executed,” Davis said.
Nelly was a leader on both ends of the court tonight, leading a defensive charge and being the go to guy on offense. Davis’s contributions to the victory go beyond the box-score and after the game Coach May spoke about how his spacing led to success for his teammates and eventually himself.
“I thought Johnell did a great job of being a decoy, I thought every time he cut it drew 2-3 defenders and opened up some space for other guys, and ended up freeing him later in the game. I thought it was just guys creating offense for their teammates, because St.Bonaventure came into this game with the game plan to neutralize these two (Goldin & Davis ),” Coach May said.
Outside of Davis’s 16, Goldin was the only other Owl in double figures finishing with 11 and converting all of his shots. This win was a team effort highlighted by a gritty performance where everyone needed to contribute, and they did. Although everyone’s efforts may not show up in the box-score it shows up in the win column as the Owls pick up another crucial non conference victory.
The Owls were unable to bounce back at the free throw line, shooting under 60% from the line as a team for the second straight game. After the game Coach May talked about how although the team is struggling from the line currently, it’s not something that worries him long term.
“I will be shocked if there’s not several games we win this season because of our ability to make free throws. Throughout the season there’s ebbs and flows, right not we’re in a little bit of a rut where several of them rimmed in and out. I was most proud of that we offensive rebounded a couple of them and we didn’t let it affect other parts of our game and that’s what we pride ourselves on. We’re not always gonna make free throws, we’re not always gonna make 3’s, every night it’s going to be its own entity and we have to find ways to win even when the free throws aren’t going in,” Coach May said.
The Owls survived this one despite the poor free throw shooting, but a tough matchup with Arizona looms large and the Owls will have to make sure all aspects of their game are functioning at their highest level for that one. FAU will have a week off, before taking on the Wildcats in Las Vegas on December 23rd.