By Robbie Lastella
Boca Raton FL- The first half brought back memories of the FGCU loss, but the Owls didn’t let the slow start phase them. FAU outscored ECU 44-28 in the second half and used 20-point performances from both Alijah Martin and Johnell Davis to defeat the Pirates 79-64.
“It’s nice to get back home and start conference play, and begin a new chapter in the American athletic conference in the right way. I thought our guys stayed the course, it was a back-and-forth game and I thought with 5-8 minutes left we missed a couple layups and free throws and we had an opportunity to get a little bit tight. I thought our guys stayed the course, and kept battling, found some creative ways to get stops and come up with loose basketballs. Obviously, they made the plays down the stretch to win,” Coach Dusty May said after the game.
The first half started out a bit slow for FAU, as Nelly Davis came out hot with 5 straight points. ECU responded to that with 9 straight of their own and the Pirates jumped out to an early lead.
FAU managed to stay in it throughout the first half, but it was a battle and early on it was 2 players single handedly keeping the Owls in the game. Throughout the first 10 minutes of this game, only Johnell Davis and Bryan Greenlee scored for FAU. ECU on the other hand had a balanced attack, with 5 players contributing early on, and that helped the Pirates jump out to an 8-point lead with just under 10 minutes to play in the first half.
Following that Pirates run, the Owls jolted themselves back into it. Alijah Martin hit back-to-back triples and the lead was down to 2 in under 30 seconds. Those triples were big for Alijah who missed his first 3 shots of the night and seemed to get going following that run. After the game, he spoke on how those buckets helped get him going.
“It felt good, but I credit my teammates for finding me and pat myself on the back for knocking them down,” Martin said after the game.
The rest of the first half continued to be a back-and-forth affair, as despite that big stretch from Alijah, the Pirates remained hot and had a response for any run that the Owls made. FAU was able to take their first lead of the game with under a minute to play in the first half, but the pirates responded quickly and took a 36-35 lead into the half. After the game, Coach May was asked what his message to the team was at the half.
“We didn’t do anything to fire the guys up. East Carolina played very well in the first half, played well and made shots. We had to make a couple of adjustments with our matchups, but we’re going to get everyone’s best shot going forward. Hats off to ECU they earned the first half lead, luckily we came out with great energy in the first minutes of the second half to set the tone, Coach May said.
The Owls did indeed set the tone, coming out and getting solid contributions from Alijah, Johnell and Vlad Goldin leading to FAU taking their second lead of the game just 4 minutes into the half. The Pirates responded and retook the lead back a few possessions later, but with 16:33 to play Alijah Martin threw down a reverse 1 handed jam and FAU grabbed a hold of momentum. After the game, Coach May talked about how Alijah got back to having fun tonight.
“In my mind, he had 2 great looks early and then I noticed he got out in transition and got a dunk. I thought usually with him if he can get an easy basket than it usually ignites the other areas of the game. I just thought he looked like he was back to having fun playing ball he wasnt thinking about what happened last game or last possession. I thought he got lost competing and I thought his defense was better, and I thought he brought a lot of positive contributions to the game as did Johnell,” Coach May said.
FAU never trailed again after that dunk as it seemed from that point on the Owls had a new form of energy surrounding them. The Owls were able to hold a multiple possession lead for a majority of the second half, but it got close and with 6:31 to play the Pirates were in it and only trailing by 2. ECU was still on a roll at that point, finding different ways to exploit the FAU defense but the Owls had a grip on momentum and the final few minutes were going to be a battle of will.
FAU was able to get 2 free throws off of a turnover, and Bryan Greenlee hit a 3 with under 4 minutes to play. Just like that the Owls led by 6 and there was a sense in the building that the Owls were going to close this one out. The Owls went on a ferocious run over the final 5 minutes out scoring ECU 14-1 and putting the pirates to sleep in front of a raucous home crowd. After the game Coach May spoke on that big run and how it played a role in the win.
“We weren’t clicking very well offensively in the half court, give them credit they were changing defenses and had us off tilt. I thought our stops allowed us to get out in transition, I think they made a calculated risk to send a lot of guys to the glass and it worked at times but when it didn’t we were able to get out and I thought our guys made really good plays in transition,” Coach May said.
FAU starts out conference play with a huge comeback victory in front of a great home crowd. No AAC game is going to be easy, and tonight’s game was a direct example of that.
The Owls will have things to learn from this game, as they do all games. FAU will use what they’ve learned from tonight’s victory and past games to prepare for their first AAC road game, Saturday against Charlotte.
(Photos in this article were taken By Christian Proscia to contact him message him on X @CP_Photo2004)