Men’s Basketball: Owls outlast Kansas State 79-76, book trip to Final Four

After defeating the Kansas State Wildcats 79-76 Saturday night, FAU now heads to the Final Four, and sits two wins away from a National Championship.


Courtesy of FAU Athletics

Senior guard Michael Forrest squaring up with a defender against Memphis in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on March 17, 2023.

Cameron Priester, Sports Editor

NEW YORK CITY – Nine days ago, the FAU men’s basketball (35-3, 18-2 C-USA) had never won an NCAA Tournament game. Today they’re just two wins away from sitting at the pinnacle of college basketball.

In the final 17 seconds of regulation of the Owls’ Elite 8 matchup with the Kansas State University Wildcats Saturday night, senior guard Michael Forrest sank four free throws to secure the victory, and send FAU to their first Final Four in program history.

Forrest, who was Dusty May’s first recruit as head coach at FAU, and his four clutch fouls shots, capped off the 79-76 victory over Kansas State at Madison Square Garden, and the latest chapter of what has already been a story-book season for the Owls. 

“I have pride in Mike every single day,” said May postgame. “He’s got an engineering degree, he’s going to play professional basketball, he’s a champion. And, he’s also a Final Four participant.”

Though it was Forrest’s foul shots in the final seconds of play that sealed the victory, in similar fashion to their Sweet 16 victory over the University of Tennessee, it took one of FAU’s trademark second half runs to lift the Owls past Kansas State. 

A fast start left the Owls ahead by four after the first half. In the first half, FAU shot an efficient 53.6% from the floor and 36.4% from three-point range, however, Kansas State All-American guard Markquis Nowell’s 15 first half points kept the Wildcats within reach.

Nowell’s a great player, and going into it we just wanted to shut him down, but he still put up crazy stats,” said sophomore guard Alijah Martin, who led the scoring charge for FAU with 17 points. “We were just able to overcome that because we’ve got eight guys over here that’s contributing and can step up any night.”

The Wildcat’s offense wouldn’t be held down too long, as they snatched that lead away to start the second half. Senior guard Keyontae Johnson scored on back-to-back possessions immediately after halftime, sparking a 14-5 scoring run by the Wildcats that left them ahead by seven.

The Owls had been in this situation several times before. Just like against Tennessee the day before, and against Memphis and Fairleigh Dickinson in the preliminary rounds, they didn’t panic facing a second half deficit, they went to work chipping away at that lead.

A lot of times people might try to hit home runs to close that lead,” said junior guard Bryan Greenlee. “We don’t really get rattled in situations where we’re down. We’ve been in too many of them.”

It was the three-pointer made by Greenlee with 9:04 in the second half that triggered the 18-4 run by the Owls that left them ahead 72-64—the largest lead of the night—with under three minutes to play.

With Johnson, the Wildcats’ second leading scorer on the season, sidelined after fouling out, Kansas State trimmed the Owls lead down to one with 17 seconds to play.

But, it was Forrest and his poise at the free-throw that in the final seconds of play that reigned supreme. After the fifth-year senior nailed four foul shots, the Owls kept Kansas State from even attempting a shot on the final possession, securing the victory and making FAU just the third 9-seed in tournament history to make the Final Four. 

FAU joins the ranks of the University of Pennsylvania, who did it in 1979, and Wichita State University, who did it in 2013, as the only 9-seeds to advance past the Regional Rounds in NCAA Tournament history.

“It’s pretty surreal. It’s a lot of excitement. Just happiness for the unit that we have that everyone gets to experience this together,” said Greenlee. “Also a little bit of just hunger to go finish it off.”

After returning to Boca Raton on Sunday, the Owls will prepare to travel to Houston, Texas, for the Final Four in NRG Stadium. 

There they’ll face the winner of the Elite 8 matchup between the Creighton University Bluejays and the San Diego State University Aztecs, in the national semifinal on Saturday, April 1.

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