Meet Cinderella: A look at FAU's path to a stunning Final Four berth
There were a number of Cinderella stories in this year's NCAA Tournament, but as the event heads to the Final Four, it's clear that title belongs to Florida Atlantic.
The ninth-ranked Owls took down No. 3 Kansas State on Saturday in New York to win the East Region and advance to its first national semifinal in the history of the program.
If you didn't know much about FAU heading to the tournament, it's safe to say you were not alone. Just over 1% of brackets had FAU advancing to the Final Four for this year's tournament.
Florida Atlantic's main campus sits in Boca Raton, Florida and has an enrolmment of just under 30,000 students for this academic year. Notable alumni from the school include comedian 'Carrot Top' and singer Chris Carrabba of the band 'Dashboard Confessional.'
This isn't just Florida Atlantic's first trip to the Final Four, but it's also the Owls first time winning a game in the NCAA Tournament. The program had only qualified for March Madness once in its 29-year existence before grabbing the automatic bid out of Conference USA this season.
While the Owls flew under the radar on a national level, they turned in a very impressive season heading into March. Dusty May's outfit posted an impressive 31-3 mark in winning its conference, including an incredible 20-game winning streak at one point in the schedule.
Here's the path Florida Atlantic has traveled to go from an upstart in its tournament debut to the Final Four.
Round of 64: Owls 65, Memphis 64
The opening-round contest was actually the closest call for FAU in this tournament. The Owls trailed Memphis by one before a controversial jump-ball call went FAU's way to give them possession with five seconds to play. Nicholas Boyd took over from there, driving to the basket and making the game-winner with just over two seconds to play. That gave FAU its first NCAA Tournament victory in school history.
Round of 32: Owls 78, FDU 70
The age-old saying of having to be good to be lucky definitely applies to FAU's run to the Final Four. The Owls took care of business late in the opening game and were rewarded with a massive underdog in the Round of 32 thanks to a slice of history. Fairleigh Dickinson provided the opposition after the Knights became just the second No. 16 seed ever to beat a No. 1 in a stunning upset of Purdue. FDU put up a solid fight, but could not slow down Johnell Davis as the Owls held on for the victory.
Davis also became a household name for his very colorful interview following the victory.
The win clinched the first trip to the Sweet 16 with a contest against No. 4 Tennessee on deck.
Sweet 16: Owls 62, Tennessee 55
The Sweet 16 game against the Volunteers was a tale of two halves, with the SEC powerhouse taking a five-point lead to the break. The Owls came out possessed in the second, ripping off a 15-2 run in the middle of the final frame to flip the game on its head. Tennessee was one of the best second-half teams all season, but was outscored 40-28 over the final 20 minutes in the loss.
Elite Eight: Owls 79, Kansas State 76
A date with tournament star Markquis Nowell and Kansas State was the Owls reward for taking out Tennessee, and the electric point guard caused problems for FAU all night at Madison Square Garden. Nowell finished with 30 points and 12 assists, but FAU limited the rest of the Wildcats in the win. Only one other Kansas State player scored in double figures, while the balance of the Owls was once again a major story. Four players scored at least 13 points for FAU, and the Owls dominated on the glass by an outrageous 44-22 margin.
As FAU has shown throughout the tournament, the Owls thrive in late-game execution. With the three-point win over Kansas State, FAU improved to 11-1 in games decided by five points or less this season. A 20-13 run over the final 7:03 was the push that was needed to book the Final Four berth.
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