#9 Florida Atlantic advanced to the program's first Final Four after a 79-76 win over #3 Kansas State on Saturday night in the NCAA Men's Tournament Elite Eight round at Madison Square Garden.
FAU is the third team from Conference USA to advance to the Final Four and will face the winner of the South Region in Houston on Saturday.
Keyontae Johnson got Kansas State on the board with a midrange jumper after the Wildcats started the game 0-of-4 from the field. Bryan Greenlee gave FAU an early lead with a three, but they struggled to hold onto possession, committing four turnovers in the first five minutes. The game was tied at seven at the first media timeout.
Florida Atlantic went on a 6-0 run to take the lead after the media timeout as both teams traded baskets every time down the floor. Vladislav Goldin started to dominate down low for the Owls after Johnson picked up his second foul for Kansas State as FAU led 22-18 with 10:26 left in the first half. Of those 22 points, 14 were scored in the paint as Kansas State had no answer inside.
“You know, rebounding has been an issue for us all year, and we tried to make it tough for them,” said Kansas State head coach Jerome Tang. “We tried to front them. They did a great job of lobbing it over to him (Goldin). So they would play behind. He did a good job of scoring some buckets. I didn't think he was the difference. I didn't think he could score 20, so I wasn't concerned with it. I was more concerned with the other guys.”
FAU went without a field goal for almost four minutes but were able to get to the line as they were in the bonus at the eight-minute mark of the half. To the Owls' credit, they were able to hold Kansas State at bay during this stretch to retain a six-point lead. That is before the Wildcats awakened to go on an 8-0 run to take a one-point lead. Greenlee nailed a trey to put FAU back up, but Kansas State looked turned on the pressure, especially on the defensive end in the latter part of the half.
While they were dominated on the boards, 22-9, Kansas State's saving grace was FAU turning the ball over 12 times, leading to 18 Wildcat points. FAU held a 42-38 advantage at the half as Greenlee and Goldin each scored eight points in the half. Thursday's hero Markquis Nowell had 15 points and seven assists in the first half as he held the Wildcats together without Keyontae Johnson.
The start of the second half saw Kansas State get Johnson back into the game's rhythm after he missed the final 12 minutes of the first half. He scored the Wildcats' first two baskets of the half as the team had new energy missing in the first half. Florida Atlantic remained in the lead behind Johnell Davis and Alijah Martin as they led 47-46 with 16:16 left in regulation.
Novell hit a three to put Kansas State up by two, 49-47, as two players from each team were playing with three fouls early in the second half. Kansas State went on a 13-3 run punctuated by a layup by Nae'qwan Tomlin after an FAU turnover, their sixth over a span of 5:35 to give the Wildcats a 57-50 lead at the 11:36 mark of the second half.
When it seemed that FAU was done, they went on a run outscoring Kansas State 8-3 as Brandon Weatherspoon's three cut the Owls' deficit to one with under seven minutes to play. They took the lead after Goldin slammed down an offensive rebound as the Wildcats went on a scoring drought of over three minutes during FAU's 7-0 run.
With the score 65-63, a questionable three-shot foul was called on Tomlin, sending FAU's Greenlee to the line. Greenlee hit two of three and Martin drained a three to open a six-point lead with 2:44 left. Nowell hit a three to pull Kansas State to within three, but Davis continued his tournament-long second-half scoring explosion converting a driving layup to stretch the FAU lead to five.
With Florida Atlantic up by four, Cam Carter hit a pull-up three to make it 75-74 with 22.8 left in regulation. Michael Forrest made two free throws and Kansas State countered with a Tomlin layup. Forrest returned to the line again and knocked down two more foul shots as Kansas State could not get a shot off as Florida Atlantic continued its magical run through the NCAA Tournament.
“Extremely rewarding to see a group give as much as these guys have all season, shots, playing time, minutes, everything you could imagine, grit, everything 100 percent every day in practice and then be rewarded because there's never a guaranteed,” said FAU head coach Dusty May. “You're always relying on faith that you believe it's going to happen, but you never really know. In this era where everyone wants the whole pie, these guys continued sharing the pie every single day, and this was the result.”
Alijah Martin led Florida Atlantic with 17 points while Vladislav Goldin picked up a double-double finishing with 14 points and 13 rebounds. The Owls doubled Kansas State in rebounds, 44-22, and dominated in offensive rebounds and second chance points with 14 and 15 respectively.
“It feels amazing,” said Martin. “You know, this is a group of guys that just loves to work, loves to compete. Also we love to serve each other. We love being around each other, and it shows on the court.”
Kansas State was led by Markquis Nowell who finished with 30 points and 12 assists. Keyonte Johnson was held to just nine points as he was limited to just 18 minutes.
“I'm very grateful. I had a tremendous year with my teammates and my coaching staff,” said Nowell. “Had a lot of fun. Just looking back at how hard we worked to get to this point, man, I'm just thankful for the journey. I'm thankful for my teammates and everybody behind the scenes. I wouldn't want it any other way."
All-East Regional Tournament Team
Markquis Nowell- Kansas State
Keyontae Johnson – Kansas State
Johnell Davis – FAU
Vladislav Goldin – FAU
AJ Hoggard – Michigan State
Most Outstanding Player in East Regional
Markquis Nowell – Kansas State
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