COLUMBUS, Ohio — Johnell Davis scored 29 points and hauled in 12 rebounds to help No. 9 Florida Atlantic end the Cinderella run of No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson 78-70 Sunday in their East Region second-round game.
Bryan Greenlee had a key 3-pointer and Davis had two steals, a layup and a dunk in a 55-second span that put the game away late during a 7-0 run.
Alijah Martin added 14 points for Florida Atlantic (33-3), which entered the tournament with just one previous appearance, a loss in the first round in 2002.
Florida Atlantic advances to play No. 4 seed Tennessee on Thursday in one East Regional semifinal at Madison Square Garden in New York. In the other, No. 3 Kansas State will play No. 7 Michigan State, a 69-60 winner over No. 2 Marquette in the first game in Columbus on Sunday.
Fairleigh Dickinson (21-16) shocked Purdue 63-58 on Friday to become just the second No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed. The Knights fell just short in their bid to become the first No. 16 seed to qualify for the round of 16.
Demetre Roberts had 20 points, Sean Moore scored 14 and Joe Munden Jr. added 13 for the Knights.
“Hats off to FDU,” said Florida Atlantic coach Dusty May. “They’re incredibly hard to prepare for. Such a tough match-up. And their scrappiness and physicality was exceptional. We just made enough plays to win.”
Florida Atlantic center Vladislav Goldin said he couldn’t describe the feeling of being a Top 16 team.
“We’ve been watching it on TV every March,” he said. ” But I don’t think we’re finished.”
FDU coach Tobin Anderson was impressed by Florida Atlantic.
“I thought they played very well. They answered every time we made a run,” he said. I didn’t think we played great the first half, didn’t play FDU basketball.
Then the second half we played really well. I couldn’t be more proud of a basketball team and a bunch of guys.
“We always talk about 6-0 runs. We were one 6-0 run away from Sweet 16. We went toe to toe with a top-five team in the country (Purdue) and this team (Florida Atlantic) is a Top 25 team in the country. We went toe to toe the last few days with two great teams and didn’t back down, didn’t go away.”
Roberts looked back at an historic season.
“We started July 5th, getting to know the new players, new culture, new coaches for the players who stayed from last year. We were picked last in every poll.
“We overcame a lot of things. Everybody improved this year from me to everybody else. Joe Munden improved. Ansley Almonor improved. Sean Moore improved. Everybody, from one through 15 improved.”
Florida Atlantic was not in awe of giant slayer Fairleigh Dickinson in the opening moments. Behind seven points from Martin, the Owls came out and scored the first nine points, before the Knights finally answered with a straightaway 3-pointer from Grant Singleton four minutes into the game.
While both teams struggled from long range, the Owls claimed a 32-25 halftime lead on the strength of a 20-10 advantage in the paint.
But an 8-0 run in the opening 100 seconds of the second half ignited the heavily partisan Fairleigh Dickinson crowd. Back-to-back treys from Moore and Munden put the Knights up 33-32.
With them feeding off the adrenaline of the crowd, the Knights built leads of 40-36 and 49-44. Roberts was the spark during a furious run, drilling a crossover 3-pointer and a crossover reverse layup that brought the crowd to a roar.
Down 54-51, the Owls answered with a 12-2 run that featured six points from Davis, as Florida Atlantic took the lead for good.
–By Mike Petraglia, Field Level Media