Men’s Basketball: Owls outlast Middle Tennessee, advance to C-USA Tourney Championship

FAU righted a mid-season defeat to Middle Tennessee, taking them down 68-65 to advance to the C-USA Tournament Championship.


Jaden Wiston

Johnell Davis, Michael Forrest (11), Nicholas Boyd (2), and Giancarlo Rosado (3) against Charlotte on Jan. 7, 2022.

Zachary Watts, Staff Writer

FRISCO, Texas — After taking down the Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers in the quarterfinal round,  the #1 seeded FAU Owls (30-3,18-2 C-USA) avenged a mid-season loss by defeating the 4-seeded Middle Tennessee State University Blue Raiders 68-65 on Friday afternoon. 

We had some adversity,” said head coach Dusty May. “But our guys stayed the course and stayed together like they have all season, and just found a way to win.”

The Owls split the season series earlier this year, with both teams winning the games played on their home court. Friday’s meeting, a neutral site matchup in the heart of Texas at the Ford Center, saw the Owls take the victory, advancing them to the championship game on Saturday. 

The Owls entered the matchup as 10-point favorites heading into the game and started off hot on both sides of the ball. They jumped out to a 10-point lead by the seven-minute mark in the first half, forcing MTSU to earn all their baskets from inside the restricted area.

Despite the hot offense in the first half, foul trouble and turnovers began to plague FAU as the second half continued. After seven turnovers from the Owls, the Blue Raiders drew multiple trips to the line and converted 88% of their attempts from the charity stripe in the first half.

One of the more notable plays of the game came with just over two minutes to play in the first half, as sophomore guard Alijah Martin elevated for a huge one-handed slam dunk and the foul over a Blue Raiders’ defender that extended the lead to 16 points.

The Owls’ defense held the Blue Raiders’ offense at bay in the first half, causing all points to come from inside the arc without even allowing them to attempt a three-pointer. 

Martin led the scoring charge with a team-high 12 points in the first half to keep the Owls up 37-25. As a team, FAU shot 57.14% from the floor and 40% from three-point range in the first half. 

Coming out of halftime, the Blue Raiders went on the offensive using a 10-2 scoring run to cut the lead down to four points.

After trading a couple of baskets, the Owls found themselves reeling following the 12-minute media timeout, with their once double-digit lead cut down to three. Sophomore center Vladislav Goldin picked up four fouls early in the second half, which caused him to sit out while the Blue Raiders found themselves scoring often inside the paint. 

After checking back into the game with less than two minutes to play, Goldin would come up big for the Owls, blocking a second-chance layup that would’ve given the Blue Raiders the lead with seconds remaining.

After Goldin’s block, an intentional foul sent Martin to the line, where he converted both free throws putting the Owls up three. A last-second hail mary three-point attempt from Middle Tennessee failed as time expired, securing the 68-65 victory and clinching a championship appearance for the Owls.  

Martin was named Player of the Game following his 17-point, 6-rebound performance. He and fellow sophomore guard Johnell Davis combined for 35 points as the Owls squeezed out their 30th win of the season, pushing their overall record to 30-3. 

What a great college basketball game,” said May. “It was a great environment with great intensity, and two teams going at it back and forth.”

The Owls now look to the C-USA Tournament Championship game, where they will take on the University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers, who the Owls split their two-game regular season series against. At stake is an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, which the Owls have not appeared in since 2002.

The championship is scheduled to tipoff at 8:30 p.m. from the Ford Center in Frisco, Texas, and will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network.

Zachary Watts is a staff writer for the University Press. For more information regarding this or other stories email [email protected] or tweet him at @ZachWatts1_