Men’s Basketball: Second half comeback sends Owls to Elite 8

After trailing by as much as nine in the first half, FAU roared back for a 62-55 victory over the Tennessee Volunteers in the Sweet 16 Thursday night.


Jaden Wiston

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

Cameron Priester, Sports Editor

NEW YORK CITY – In their own minds it was never in doubt. 

When FAU men’s basketball (34-3, 18-2 C-USA) went into the locker room at halftime Thursday night, they were trailing by five and shooting a rough 21% from three-point range—nearly 11% worse than their season average.

Facing a deficit going into the second half, the Owls never panicked.

The locker room was kind of laid back,” said sophomore guard Nicholas Boyd. “We referred back to the Memphis game where we were down four at halftime, and we just stuck with it and found a way to win.”

Sophomore guard Johnell Davis’ 13 second half points led FAU’s late resurgence, lifting them past the University of Tennessee Volunteers 62-55 Thursday night in the Sweet 16 at Madison Square Garden.  

The Owls’ fourth second half comeback of the season sends them to the Elite 8 for the first time in program history, where they’ll face the Kansas State University Wildcats (26-9, 11-7 Big 12).

Our guys, I think they really believe in what we do, and when it’s not working, they don’t panic,” said head coach Dusty May. “They just stay the course and trust over the course of 40 minutes.”

After trailing by as much as nine in the first half, shots finally began to fall for FAU. Davis and sophomore center Vladislav Goldin scored on back-to-back possessions to open the second half, but the Volunteers had an answer for everything. 

That was until Davis scored his seventh point of the night with 12:07 in the second half, sparking an 18-2 scoring run by the Owls that left them with their largest lead of the night at 51-41.

“We’re going to make that run every time,” said sophomore guard Alijah Martin, who finished with nine points, including a three-pointer amidst that run. “We always had it in us. We just got to stay the course, stay positive, and stay together through the game.”

A Volunteers’ three-pointer shrunk that lead down to five, until Boyd answered back with a layup in transition, leaving the score at 57-50 with under three minutes to play. 

Davis and junior guard Bryan Greenlee both drew trips to the foul line in the final two minutes as Tennessee resorted to fouling, and they went a combined 5-of-6 from the line securing the Owls’ bid to the Elite 8.

“It’s awesome for our university, our athletic department, and our community,” said head coach Dusty May. “Our guys have done it with professionalism all year, so it’s awesome for everyone, especially as we’ve put in a lot of time. These guys have put a lot of work, elbow grease into building a program and so for it to be to this point, it’s very rewarding, but we’ll focus on all that later after the season.”

Now standing in their way is 3-seed Kansas State, ranked #15 in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll and coming off of a 98-93 overtime victory over the Michigan State University Spartans in the Sweet 16 on Thursday. 

After being polled to finish dead last in the Big 12 Conference, Naismith Coach of the Year finalist, Jerome Tang, has led the Wildcats to their fourteenth Elite 8 appearance in program history. They’re powered by senior guard Markquis Nowell, who broke the single game NCAA Tournament assist record with a masterful 20-point, 19-assist double-double in their Sweet 16 victory. 

“I’ve watched them a lot this year just because I enjoy watching them play,” said May, of Kansas State. “As a coach, that’s probably the greatest compliment you can give someone, you enjoy watching their team play.”

FAU and Kansas State will face off on Saturday, March 25 at Madison Square Garden, with a trip to the Final Four at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas on the line. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:09 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