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No. 17 Florida Atlantic pulls away late, tops East Carolina in AAC opener


BOCA RATON — Florida Atlantic saved its best for the end of its American Athletic Conference debut.

Johnell Davis and Alijah Martin each scored 20 points and No. 17 FAU used a 14-0 run in the closing minutes to finish off a 79-64 win over East Carolina on Tuesday night.

Bryan Greenlee scored 13 off the bench and Vladislav Goldin finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds for the Owls (11-3, 1-0). The big run at the end turned a two-point edge into a 16-point lead.

“Nice to get back home and start conference play, begin a new chapter in the American Athletic Conference and start off the right way,” FAU coach Dusty May said. “I thought our guys stayed the course. It was a back-and-forth game.”

It was, until it wasn’t. The late spurt turned a nailbiter into what looked like a runaway, even though East Carolina either led or was tied for half the game.

Brandon Johnson scored 15 for East Carolina (7-7, 0-1), while Quentin Diboundje added 13 before departing with a lower extremity injury with 5:31 remaining. RJ Felton had 12 for the Pirates, who missed their last eight shots.

East Carolina has now lost 75 of its last 78 games against ranked opponents — and is 0-57 in such games on the road.

“We were there. We put ourselves in position,” East Carolina coach Michael Schwartz said. “I thought for 35 minutes we executed what we tried to execute. And we saw all game what an elite team they are, but in the last five, six minutes … they exploded like a volcano. They just erupted and you can see the speed and just how dynamic they are on offense.”

A 12-2 run turned a three-point deficit into a 52-45 lead for FAU with 12:15 left. East Carolina simply wouldn’t go away, making it a one-possession game — down by three points or less — on six separate occasions in the next seven minutes.

But six straight FAU points, a mini-burst where Greenlee made a 3-pointer and then found Goldin for a 5-footer, gave the Owls what was then their biggest lead, 71-63 with 3:15 left. They kept pulling away from there.

“Over the course of the last couple years, we’ve proven we can find different ways to win,” May said.


East Carolina: Tuesday marked only the second true road game of the season for the Pirates, who lost 81-59 at George Mason on Nov. 25. They opened with 11 of 13 at home, the road game at George Mason and a neutral-site 70-65 loss to Florida on Dec. 14. That game was played about two hours south of Gainesville, the Gators’ home.

Florida Atlantic: The last time the Owls lost consecutive games was the last two contests of the 2021-22 season, when they fell to UAB in the Conference USA tournament and Northern Colorado in the CBI event. FAU was 3-0 after losses last season (winning by an average of 19 points) and is now 3-0 after losses this season (winning by an average of 18 points).


Florida Atlantic is trying to avoid joining the list of teams this season to go from No. 8 or higher in the rankings to out of the poll entirely. Michigan State was No. 4 in the preseason and was out by the time November ended. Miami and Creighton both reached No. 8 before tumbling out. The Owls were No. 7 last week before the loss to Florida Gulf Coast.


FAU cut an eight-point deficit to two in a seven-second span of the first half. Martin made a 3-pointer as East Carolina’s Ezra Ausar shoved Goldin in the back. The foul gave the Owls an extra possession — and Martin hit another 3 to get FAU within 23-21.


Florida Atlantic: Visit Charlotte on Saturday.

East Carolina guard Quentin Diboundje (7) defends Florida Atlantic guard Bryan Greenlee (4) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024, in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)
East Carolina guard Quentin Diboundje (7) defends Florida Atlantic guard Bryan Greenlee (4) Tuesday in Boca Raton. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

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