NEW YORK >> Alijah Martin, Vlad Goldin and ninth-seeded Florida Atlantic became the first and lowest-seeded team to reach this year’s Final Four as the Owls withstood another huge game by Kansas State’s Markquis Nowell to beat the Wildcats 79-76 on Saturday night.
FAU (35-3), making just its second appearance in the NCAA Tournament, won the East Region at Madison Square Garden and will head to Houston to play the winner of Sunday’s South Region final between Creighton and San Diego State.
“I expect the prognosticators to pick us fifth in the Final Four,” fifth-year FAU coach Dusty May said.
The winningest team in Division I this season had never won an NCAA Tournament game before ripping off four straight, all by single digits, to become the first No. 9 seed to reach the Final Four since Wichita State in 2013 and the third to get that far since seeding began in 1979.
Nowell, the 5-foot-8 native New Yorker, was incredible again at Madison Square Garden, with 30 points, 12 assists and five steals, coming off a Sweet 16 game in which he set the NCAA Tournament record with 19 assists. He didn’t get enough help this time.
Nae’Qwan Tomlin was the only other player in double figures for Kansas State (26-10) with 14 points. Keyontae Johnson, the Wildcats’ leading scorer, fouled out with nine points.
Martin scored 17 points, including a huge 3 down the stretch, the 7-foot-1 Goldin had 14 points and 13 rebounds, and Michael Forrest made four clutch free throws in the final 20 seconds for the Owls, who held steady as the Wildcats made a late push.
Cam Carter made a 3 from the wing with 22.8 seconds left to cut FAU’s lead to 75-74 and Kansas State fouled and sent Forrest to the line with 17.9 seconds left. The senior made both to make it a three-point game.
Nowell found Tomlin inside for a layup with 8.6 left to cut the lead to one again, and again K-State sent Forrest to the line. With 6.9 left, he made them both.
With no timeouts left, Nowell rushed down the court, gave up the ball to Ismael Massoud outside the 3-point line, and never got it back. FAU’s Johnell Davis swiped it away and time ran out.
The Owls rushed the floor to celebrate a historic moment for the school. FAU didn’t even have a basketball program until the late 1980s and has only been a Division I school for the last 30 years.
UCONN 82, GONZAGA 54
LAS VEGAS >> Jordan Hawkins scored 20 points and UConn overwhelmed its fourth straight NCAA Tournament opponent, earning its first trip to the Final Four in nine years.
The Huskies (29-8) have felt right at home in their first extended March Madness run since winning the 2014 national championship. UConn controlled Gonzaga at both ends, building a 23-point lead early in the second half to waltz into the final section of the bracket.
The Bulldogs (31-6) didn’t have the second-half magic they had in a last-second win over UCLA in the Elite Eight.
Gonzaga allowed UConn to go on a late run to lead by seven at halftime and fell completely apart after All-American Drew Timme went to the bench with his fourth foul early in the second half. Timme had 12 points and 10 rebounds. The Zags shot 33% from the field and went 2 for 20 from 3.
Alex Karaban scored 12 points and Adama Sanogo had 10 points and 10 rebounds for UConn, which will play either Miami or Texas in the national semifinals.
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