By Robbie Lastella
FAU 96 – Texas A&M 89
FAU seems to play with a chip on their shoulder when they are the underdogs and that was the story today once again. The Owls who were 5 point underdogs played spoiler in the semi finals of the ESPN Invitational and upset #12 Texas A&M 96-89.
FAU was helped by dominant games from Alijah Martin and Johnell Davis, going for 25 and 26 respectively, hitting timely shots throughout the game. After the victory Martin talked about his great game today, compared to his first few injury plagued games.
“All glory to God… I just try to stay patient and thanks to my teammates always believing in me and getting me extra shots, because they know that if I’m feeling good we all are going to feel good,” Martin said.
The first half was a back and forth affair once again for the Owls, with the lead only reaching 2 possessions for either side once in the first half. It was Johnell & Alijah all day for the Owls with the two having 15 & 16 respectively going into the half.
FAU was going to be in for a tough matchup against the Aggies who are one of the best rebounding teams in the nation. Although A&M was leading the rebound battle at the half 18-10, both teams had 18 points in the paint.
The physicality from the Owls led to some Chippy-ness, and 2 sets of technical free throws for FAU. The Owls converted on them all and eventually took a 46-44 lead into the half.
The second half was where this FAU team took over, jumping out to an 18 point lead at one point and looking as dominant as ever. The 3 point shot was in full effect for the Owls during the dominant second half, and after the game Coach Dusty May talked about how that came to fruition.
“Our guys simply played off of each other very well. They created a lead or an advantage and then took what the game gives us. We have some Veteran Guards that know how to play this game at a high level. They know where to look, they know who’s open, they know the rotations of defense, and so they simply took what the game gave them and they made big individual plays after we were able to create some type of advantage,” May said.
Texas A&M wasn’t going down without a fight. Wade Taylor IV fought hard for his Aggies, going for 35 on the night and his shot with 3:44 to go cut the lead to 7 for FAU.
FAU was able to close out the Aggies in the final minutes, with strong efforts from almost everybody on the court during the final stretch of play. After the game, Coach May spoke on the leadership of Martin and Davis and how that played a role in the success of everybody tonight.
“They’re everyday guys. In this era it’s very very tough to share the spotlight like our guys do. Before the game we even thought we’d be down 1 more player and our staffs message to the team was that we feel like we have 3 first team all league caliber players and 2 of them were voted first team and the other was second. When you have 3 guys that garner the attention they do they need to be unselfish because the game becomes easier for everyone and now they’re trusting Gaffney, or they trust Greenlee, or they trust Weatherspoon and the list goes on,” Coach May said.
In tonight’s victory Alijah Martin looked like the guy that garnered national attention during last year’s tournament run. Owls fans can be relieved, as it seems like Martin has put the injury and his slow start behind him, speaking on the nature of his injury after the game.
“I don’t even remember (what the injury was),” Martin said. Which was quickly followed up with a response from Coach May, “Lower Leg,” the Owls head man noted and Martin Agreed.
A healthy Martin and a confident Owls team is a scary thought for the Owls matchup in the Finals of the ESPN Invitational. Coach May gave his thoughts on how the Owls can use the momentum from the victory into that Finals matchup and what they can take from this trip as a whole.
“Focus on the preparation. Try to find some competitive advantages for who we’re playing and hopefully our guys stay in the right mindset. We’re in a hotel together this is when we’ve typically really grown as a group, where we have had a lot of time together. Because the closeness of our guys and our program as a whole, just continue to take advantage of being away from home and together a lot,” Coach May said.
FAU will play the winner of Iowa State and Virginia Tech on Sunday at 12 pm in the championship game of the ESPN Invitational.
Johnell Davis: 26 points 3 Assists 2 Rebounds
Alijah Martin: 25 points 7 Rebounds 1 steal
Jalen Gaffney: 12 points 4 rebounds 5 assists