HOUSTON, TX – 35 wins. The first ever Conference USA championship and the second ever NCAA Tournament appearance. The program’s first, second, third, and fourth ever tournament wins. First ever Final Four appearance. This was the story of the historic 2022-23 Florida Atlantic Owls men’s basketball team, a team who will be remembered in the history books as one of the greatest stories in college basketball history.
The Owls’ dream season came to an end in heartbreaking fashion against San Diego State. Florida Atlantic fell victim to an Aztec buzzer beater, dropping the national semifinal by a 72-71 final score.
“Extremely proud of the guys’ effort and the ride they’ve taken us on for five or six months, however long it’s been. These guys laid it on the line every single practice, every single workout, weight session, film session.” Owls head coach Dusty May shared. “They put a lot into this, and sometimes it doesn’t go your way. There’s only one team in this tournament that’s going to end on a win, and unfortunately it’s not us this year. These guys have created memories and a legacy for a lifetime. People will be talking about this group for the next 50 to 100 years.”
For the second game in a row, Florida Atlantic was on fire from the opening tip, shooting 54% from the field in the opening half. The first offensive possession was a score: a three-pointer by Nick Boyd. The second offensive possession was also score: a hook shot by Johnell Davis.
San Diego State quickly found a hot streak of their own, and the Owls found themselves down by nine points before a quick 7-0 FAU run cut the deficit to just two points. The Owls would eventually tie the game with 11 minutes to go in the first half on a hook shot by Vladislav Goldin before two free throws by Davis took the lead at 19-17.
The two teams continued to battle back and forth, but the ending of the first half was all Owls, going on a 14-4 tear to take a 12 point lead, their largest of the entire tournament. Florida Atlantic entered the locker room for halftime with a 40-33 lead.
The second half began in the same way the first half did: a three-point basket by Boyd. Florida Atlantic continued to fire away from downtown and was rewarded for their efforts. The Owls knocked down seven 3-pointers through the game’s first 30 minutes, the most allowed by San Diego State in a tournament game this year.
Alijah Martin was the story of the second half for the Owls, scoring 19 of his 26 in the second half. All looked well for Florida Atlantic to advance to their first ever national championship game, but the Aztecs came storming back from a 14 point deficit. FAU held on until the very end, but a jump shot from San Diego State at the final buzzer ended the Owls’ season.
“I thank my teammates. They did a really good job setting me up and trusting me, and Coach May trusted me, too. But just looking back on the performance, it just wasn’t enough. Not to take credit of what we did, but I mean, we’re going to be back.” Martin said. “We’re not going to hold our head too low. We’ll be back at it in a couple of days.we really took this university from the bottom to the top. And to know what we did to put in to get here, it just feels amazing. Just gotta keep our heads down and keep going.”
The dream season for Florida Atlantic ended in heartbreaking fashion, but it does not define the season. A program that had only made the tournament once all the way back in 2002 and never won a game were seconds away from making the national championship game. The Owls proved they belonged with the very best in the nation. This doesn’t mark the end, but the beginning of Florida Atlantic basketball greatness.
FAU Athletics contributed to this recap