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Seventh Heaven

Franco Panizo

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FAU finished doing something over the weekend that it had never done before, and ESPN was there to cover it.

The Owls (15-6) extended their unprecedented Division I winning streak to seven games by defeating Sun Belt Conference foe UALR 88-71 on Saturday, Jan. 22, at The Burrow. FAU’s win, which also raised the Owls to 7-0 in conference play, was made even more special as it was televised live nationwide on ESPN2.

It’s likely the victory opened the eyes of many around the country, but Saturday’s win was just the latest example of how much this team has improved since the 14-16 record posted last season.

“We’re practicing better and it’s all about practice,” said head coach Mike Jarvis after Saturday’s win. “No matter what Allen Iverson says, practice is incredibly important.

Usually when people have asked me in the past why your team is so hot I say it’s because you practice hot.”

Brett Royster and newcomer Kore White must be leading the way in practice, because those two have helped the Owls look much better defensively. The addition of White this season has been a major benefit, as he gives FAU another big man down low to defend and an extra offensive weapon with deceptive skills.

“Kore White is a tremendous talent,” said Jarvis. “I mean, how many big guys can shoot a jump shot and make it consistently from midrange?”

Offensively, guard Ray Taylor has also shone during this seven-game stretch. Averaging 11.6 points and 4.1 assists this season, Taylor has overcome an early-season suspension to look like a more mature player in his second year with the Owls.

Those aren’t the only players who have done their part. From rookie Pablo Bertone to sophomore guard Greg Gantt, FAU has seen nearly all of its role players step up when needed.

“We still feel like we have a lot to prove,” said junior guard Alex Tucker.

No moment better highlights that than when Tucker scored a career-high 19 points to help give FAU a 50-42 victory over USF on Dec. 4. The win was the Owls’ second in a row over a “Big Six” BCS Conference team.

That’s the difference between now and last season, and Jarvis deserves much of the credit for it.

Jarvis has recruited a large portion of the current crop of players, and he’s done an excellent job molding them into a team with an aesthetically pleasing style of play. The man with possibly the thickest Boston accent in FAU history has made nearly flawless player personnel decisions. He also hasn’t been afraid to make tough decisions, not the least of which was suspending Taylor at the beginning of the season for conduct detrimental to the team.

Jarvis has done such a strong job coaching that it could be argued he is the best coach FAU can boast from its cast of characters. Yes, even ahead of the highly touted Howard Schnellenberger.

Superlatives like that will matter little to Jarvis, though, as all he’s likely focused on is getting this team to continue to reach its potential.

This winning streak will almost surely come to a close eventually, perhaps against Middle Tennessee State in Thursday’s 7 p.m. home game. But the Owls, who are undefeated in Sun Belt play, are looking like as a good a team as any to win the conference championship in March.

If that happens, FAU would be assured a place in the highly followed NCAA Basketball Championship, also known as March Madness.

Get a winning streak in that tournament, and you could expect to see FAU on ESPN a lot more.

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