It was an incredible March Madness run for Dusty May and Florida Atlantic a season ago. After winning a program record 28 games in the regular season and winning the Conference USA Tournament Title, the Owls took down Memphis, Tennessee, and Kansas State on their way to a Final Four.
Despite all that success from a year ago, May said that he was looking forward to turning the page on that season heading into their matchup with the Loyola Ramblers at the Barstool Invitational.
While it wasn't pretty, May's squad took a small step in that direction as they took down Loyola-Chicago, 75-62.
"I can't speak for all our guys, (but) just to put closure on last year," May said. "It was a special season but as a coach, as a program, and as a group of players still chasing their individual goals and dreams, it was nice to move to the next chapter and see what this team can become."
Vladislav Goldin won game MVP with a double-double, scoring 19 points while collecting 12 rebounds and five blocks.
Outside of Goldin, Nicholas Boyd contributed 13 points, three steals, and two assists while Johnell Davis and Brandon Weatherspoon each had 12 points for the Owls.
It was a rough night for the Ramblers offensively, as Philip Alston was the only player to score in double figures, with 15 points on 4-of-12 shooting. Braden Norris scored all six of his points in the first half, with fellow guard Desmond Watson scoring seven points.
Ramblers Bring the Clamps
The Ramblers came out of the gates with intense effort on the defensive end, against a team that averaged 77.8 points per game. By the 11:55 mark of the first half, Loyola had held FAU to just 11 points on 44% shooting from the field and 2-of-6 from beyond the arc. The Ramblers had also forced into six turnovers in the first half.
Loyola couldn't keep it up forever, as Florida Atlantic outscored them 32-23 to finish the half and 5-of-8 from the three-point line, as the Ramblers saw themselves down 13, 43-30.
"Our body movement improved, we had a few turnovers that were two-on-ones and three-on-ones that we threw out of bounds and we just didn't have a good rhythm and flow which is typical early in the season," May said. "We tried to take a lot of pride when we're making shots that it's just going to determine the margin of victory and we have to win with our defense and rebounding."
A Winning Player
With the Owls up by just one, 21-20, with 6:40 to play in the first half a key contributor stepped up big in Brandon Weatherspoon. "Spoon," would hit two back-to-back threes put push the lead out to five, 27-22.
Later on, he would an assist on a Jalen Gaffney three-pointer to make it a 15-point game, 39-24 with 2:31 to play in the half.
Weatherspoon finished the game shooting 3-for-4 from beyond the arc after shooting just 33% from that distance last season. However, May said that Weatherspoon was more than just a shooter for FAU on the court.
"I thought he was incredible on both sides of the basketball, he's such an energizer for us (and) when his shots go in it's just icing on the cake," May said. "He's a much better percentage than that 33% last year, but when he's making shots and getting out in transition he adds so many winning traits to our team."
Turnovers, Turnovers, Turnovers
Loyola head coach Drew Valentine summed up the first half with just one word: undisciplined. In the first half, the Ramblers had 11 turnovers, which the Owls turned into 15 points off those turnovers.
"We knew coming into the game that discipline was going to be what would win us the game or lose us the game and I think especially in the first half we didn't have enough discipline, " Valentine said.
The second half was a much different story, as Loyola was able to cut the turnovers down to just seven and tied the score between the two sides at 32 points. Alston said it was all a matter of not beating themselves with the turnovers.
"We were beating ourselves in the first half, so coming out (in the second half) being smarter and more disciplined is why we were able to cut that lead," Alston said.
Following the win, FAU will return home to Boca Raton to take on Eastern Michigan on Tuesday, Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. EST/6 p.m. CST.
Meanwhile, Loyola will remain in Chicago for their home opener at Gentile Arena to take on Eastern Illinois on Saturday at 7 p.m. CST/8 p.m. EST.