Thursday, February 29, 2024

Florida Atlantic keeps Cinderella story alive with Sweet 16 win over Tennessee

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Last week, the No. 9 Florida Atlantic Owls punched their ticket to their first Sweet 16 appearance in school history. 

On Thursday night, they reached their first Elite Eight after upsetting the No. 4 Tennessee Volunteers, 62-55, as their Cinderella story continues. 

The Owls used a 20-4 run over six minutes and change in the second half to pull away from the Vols, and though Tennessee tried making a run at the end, some clutch buckets for FAU cemented their spot in the next round. 

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Bryan Greenlee #4 of the Florida Atlantic Owls celebrates a basket against the Tennessee Volunteers during the second half in the Sweet 16 round game of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 23, 2023 in New York City. (Elsa/Getty Images)

One of the deepest teams in the tournament from the start, FAU saw all but one player of the nine that stepped foot on the court score at least two points. Three players reached double digits, with Johnell Davis leading the way. 

Both teams played sturdy defense, but FAU’s was better. They disrupted players like Olivier Nkamhoua (2 of 9, six points) from getting good shots up, and the Owls used it to their advantage. 

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The Owls have had to beat No. 8 Memphis in the First Round before getting tested by No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson in the Second Round after their historic upset over No. 1 Purdue. 

But this test against Tennessee, in the world’s most famous arena Madison Square Garden no less, was easily the toughest matchup they’ve had to save to this point. But a full team effort from the Owls keeps the season alive. 

Olivier Nkamhoua #13 of the Tennessee Volunteers is guarded by Alijah Martin #15 of the Florida Atlantic Owls during the first half of the game during the Sweet Sixteen round of the 2023 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament held at Madison Square Garden on March 23, 2023 in New York City. 

Olivier Nkamhoua #13 of the Tennessee Volunteers is guarded by Alijah Martin #15 of the Florida Atlantic Owls during the first half of the game during the Sweet Sixteen round of the 2023 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament held at Madison Square Garden on March 23, 2023 in New York City.  (Ben Solomon/NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

In the box score, Davis was FAU’s leading scorer with 15 points on just 3 of 9 from the field, but 9 of 10 from the charity stripe. Nicholas Boyd also had 12 points on 5 of 11 from the field, including two three-pointers, while Michael Forrest came off the bench with 11 points. 

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For Tennessee, Josiah-Jordan James and Jonas Aidoo co-led the Vols with 10 points apiece. James was the only starter in double digits, while Santiago Vescovi had nine points and Uros Plavsic had eight. 

As a team, the Vols shot just 33.3% from the field and 26.1% from three-point territory. 

Michael Forrest #11 of the Florida Atlantic Owls celebrates a basket against the Tennessee Volunteers during the second half in the Sweet 16 round game of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 23, 2023 in New York City.

Michael Forrest #11 of the Florida Atlantic Owls celebrates a basket against the Tennessee Volunteers during the second half in the Sweet 16 round game of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 23, 2023 in New York City. (Elsa/Getty Images)

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With the Vols heading back to Knoxville, FAU will move on to face No. 3 Kansas State, who defeated No. 7 Michigan State earlier at The Garden in a thrilling overtime battle. 

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