NEW YORK — Dusty May’s team didn’t see itself as an underdog, and the players wouldn’t admit to it throughout the month of March, but Cinderella’s slipper fits Florida Atlantic flawlessly.
Now the ninth-seeded Owls are headed to their first Final Four in just their second NCAA Tournament appearance of all time.
Alijah Martin scored 17 points, Michael Forrest made four pivotal end-of-game free throws and FAU toppled third-seeded Kansas State 79-76 on Saturday in the East Region final at Madison Square Garden.
FAU (35-3) will face either fifth-seeded San Diego State or sixth-seeded Creighton, who play Sunday in the South Region final. The Owls will head to Houston on an 11-game winning streak.
FAU is the third No. 9 seed ever to make the Final Four, joining 2013 Wichita State and 1979 Penn, and the ninth team seeded No. 9 or lower to go this far.
Bryan Greenlee went 4-for-6 from the arc to score 16 points. He drilled his fourth 3-pointer of the game to slice the lead in half at 60-57.
Wildcats star Markquis Nowell responded by banking in his fourth 3 of the night at the other end, but Kansas State (26-10) would not make a field goal for the next 6:52 of game time.
FAU scored the next 10 points, Vladislav Goldin giving the Owls the lead for good at 64-63 with a rebound and dunk.
Nowell made his fifth 3-pointer of the night to end the shooting drought and cut the margin to 72-69. FAU’s Nick Boyd missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity but Martin got the offensive rebound and Davis scored for a five-point game with 1:17 left.
Boyd went 1-of-2 at the line again, and Cam Carter’s pull-up 3-pointer rolled in to bring Kansas State’s deficit to 75-74 with 24 seconds left.
Kansas State gave its 10th foul and Forrest made both shots. Nae’Qwan Tomlin made a reverse layup to cut it back to one, but Forrest hit two more and the Wildcats failed to get a shot off in the final 6.9 seconds.
Goldin posted 14 points and 13 rebounds, and Johnell Davis had 13 points and eight rebounds as FAU had an enormous 44-22 rebounding advantage.
Nowell scored 30 points and dished 11 assists for Kansas State. Tomlin had 14 points and Johnson scored nine before fouling out.
–By Adam Zielonka, Field Level Media