FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — So here’s what the dream came to: Two more free throws from the fifth-year senior with an engineering degree, the kid from Pompano Beach’s Blanche Ely High, the guard in coach Dusty May’s first recruiting class to Florida Atlantic University who helped change this losing program into one that rested these free throws from the Final Four.
“The biggest free throws of his life,’’ the CBS commentator said.
Florida Atlantic’s Michael Forrest had just made two free throws with 17.9 seconds left. There were now 6.9 seconds left. The Owls led by a point. He took his customary dribbles on the foul line again and …
FAU led, 78-76.
And, when Kansas State couldn’t get off a shot, when the final seconds left the scoreboard, that was it. The dream was reality. The little team that could actually did. Soon, Florida Atlantic players were going up a step-ladder, one by one, to snip the nets in Madison Square Garden after their 79-76 win against Kansas State.
Look who’s going to the Final Four.
Look who’s a win against Creighton or San Diego State from playing for the national title.
Don’t bother, you didn’t see this coming. Don’t ask if the college basketball world is ready for this. Is South Florida? This is a program that had just one NCAA Tournament appearance in 2002. It won its first tournament game against Memphis to start this tournament.
It’s kept winning, too. Fairleigh Dickinson. Tennessee. Now Kansas State. There’s a surreal quality to all of this, FAU in the debate of surprise runs to the Final Four, Charles Barkley and Kenny Walker breaking down the Florida Atlantic offense at halftime, just after Barkley admitted a few seconds earlier, “Before this game, I had no idea [Vladislav] Goldin was alive.”
How many of us did before this tournament?
Goldin had a big presence this game. Fourteen points. Thirteen rebounds. Two blocks. His inside play helped Florida Atlantic when it was losing its footing early in the second half. It out-rebounded Kansas State 44-22.
“When you draw up plays with Xs and Os on some teams all the Os don’t have to be guarded so you can put your Xs in the right spot to make it tough on the offense,’’ Kansas State coach Jerome Tang said. “Every one of his Os can score. That puts your defense in a bind.”
Kansas State had that one great player. Guard Markquis Nowell was magic again this nigh with 30 points and 12 assists. But he fell one possession short Saturday, the same possession most great players and good teams do in this tournament.
Only one comes out standing in the end. FAU has a chance. It goes to Houston for next weekend’s Final Four. That’s where the University of Miami wants to end up after Sunday’s game against Texas.
Is this some odd parallel universe? College basketball rules in South Florida? It’s not just FAU and the Miami men. The Miami women also try to make the Final Four on Sunday. Nova Southeastern won the Division II national title on Saturday.
May said after Saturday’s win a big moment for this team was when it scrimmaged Nova Southeastern before the regular season. This was a small NCAA violation, and May said he’d take the hit. But when they won against a hard-pressing, hard-running team, May said, “That meant something to this team.”
So when FAU was down six points midway through the second half it didn’t bend.
“We don’t get rattled in situations when we’re down,’’ guard Bryan Greenlee said. “We’ve been in too many of them. We focused on one possession and getting stops [on defense].
“Just keep playing our basketball,’’ Goldin said.
FAU’s moment was sealed by Forrest at the foul line. He comes off the bench. He had two points before being fouled twice in the end, first with those 17.9 seconds left, then with the game fully on the line with 6.9 seconds left.
“I was thinking, ‘Mikey’s got this,’ ‘’ May said.
He had it. They all had it. This is the fun of this tournament, a run out of nowhere from a team from Boca Raton. Afterward, the players talked of the fun of this win, the joy of advancing to the Final Four.
May was asked if he had put this in perspective.
“No, not at all,’’ he said.
Greenlee, amid the smiles, said, “There’s some hunger to go on and finish the job.”