Men’s Basketball: Davis lifts Owls past FDU in second round of NCAA Tourney

FAU defeated the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights in the Round of 32 Sunday night, advancing to the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history.


Nicholas Windfelder

Johnell Davis going in for a layup against UTEMP on Feb 25th 2023.

Cameron Priester, Sports Editor

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Owls have had extra motivation all season long.

First, they were polled to finish fifth in Conference USA. Then, they had to go on an unprecedented winning streak to get into the Associated Press Top 25 Poll, amidst teams with worse records. Later, they were handed a 9-seed in the NCAA Tournament, despite having a stronger resume than many teams seeded higher. 

But for sophomore guard Johnell Davis, his motivation is a little different. 

“I’m just trying to feed my family,” said Davis, after becoming the first player in history to tally 25 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, and five steals in an NCAA Tournament game.

Davis’ historic performance sparked FAU men’s basketball (33-3, 18-2 C-USA) as they defeated the 16-seed Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) Knights 78-70 in the Round of 32 Sunday night at Nationwide Arena. 

The victory sends them to the Sweet 16 for the first time in program history, where they’ll face the University of Tennessee Volunteers at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

It’s just, like, a blessing,” said Davis, the All-Conference guard and Gary, Indiana native. “But we’re going to work still.”

Even amidst the performance of a lifetime, FDU had the Owls reeling at several points throughout the game. 

A fast start kept FAU in the lead for the entirety of the first half, and with 6:21 until halftime, junior guard Brandon Weatherspoon nailed a three-pointer putting FAU ahead by 11—their largest lead of the night. 

At halftime, FAU was shooting 35.1% from the floor and 18% from deep, while leading the Knights 32-25.

FDU, though, came out of the locker room firing on all cylinders, mounting a 15-4 scoring run in the 4:01 immediately following halftime to take a 4-point lead.

“Just the belief we’ve been in these situations before numerous times,” said head coach Dusty May. “So absolutely I think our guys believed, even when we were down seven points, I think they believed we were going to find a way.”

Sophomore guard Nicholas Boyd temporarily stopped the bleeding with 9:03 in regulation, sinking his only three of the night to tie the score at 54 apiece. From there on, the Owls didn’t look back.

FAU regained life in the closing minutes of regulation after a streaky opening to the second half, and with 1:23 left to play Davis threw down a slam dunk, putting them ahead 74-64.

Out of desperation, FDU resorted to intentional fouling in the final minute. However, Davis capped off a masterful performance, going 4-4 from the foul line in the final 37 seconds to secure FAU’s first bid to the Sweet 16.

“We never felt like we were a Cinderella team,” said May. “We went into an SEC school and won, and have been in some very tough environments. We never felt like we were a Cinderella story because of our record, because of the players in that locker room.”

Now, as FAU’s attention turns to Tennessee, their most anticipated game of the season in one of the most-storied venues in sports, Davis said, “It’s like any other gym.”

“It’s a nice place,” said Davis. “But we’ve still got to go in and put the work in as every other gym.”

The Owls’ Sweet 16 matchup with Tennessee is set for Thursday, March 23 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Tipoff is scheduled for 9 p.m. and will be broadcast by TBS.

Cameron Priester is the Sports Editor for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @PriesterCameron