(Photo credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports)
Something special came to life in South Florida last season, and the good times are carrying over at Florida Atlantic.
The No. 10 Owls and coach Dusty May will take the court Saturday, hosting Bryant in the second annual Boca Raton MegaBowl.
Following their Final Four appearance last season, the Owls have felt the surge of enthusiasm grow in the coastal community's university, which is known more for fall Saturdays on the gridiron when current Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin walked the FAU sidelines 2017-19.
But things are better in Boca now.
In preparation for the Owls' home opener Tuesday night, students camped out 24 hours before tipoff, a scene more expected on the campus at Duke than at Florida Atlantic.
Fans got in line for their seats, played music and recounted the joy of the squad's March Madness run.
"It was awesome to see the guys and ladies camped out and for this to be a big deal," said May, who provided doughnuts and T-shirts for the students while they waited. "Our guys deserve for this to be a big deal."
And when it came time for basketball, the Owls didn't disappoint the students and fans.
FAU (2-0) looked to be in top form against Eastern Michigan, reaching the century mark to the fans' delight in a 100-57 rout of the Eagles.
The numbers from the romp were as overwhelming as the student support. FAU was outstanding from the field, making 40 of 64 field-goal attempts (62.5 percent) and sank 13 of 25 3-pointers (52 percent). It also produced 25 assists.
For the second straight game, 7-foot-1 center Vladislav Goldin tied his career high with 19 points.
On the defensive end, the Owls outrebounded EMU 39-22 and held a plus-21 rebound edge when the Eagles were on offense.
All of that led to May's club recording its 19th straight home victory.
"Coming off the season that we had and a relatively long offseason, even though it was shorter compared to years' past, you never know how young men are going to perform in a new environment," May said. "We started to get good crowds last year, but the anticipation with our fans and our students, it was impressive."
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs (1-3) lost for the third time in four games Thursday night in their second road test, dropping a 95-79 decision to Boston University.
So far, the high point for new Bryant coach Phil Martelli Jr. was his squad's lone victory -- a 140-79 home pasting of NAIA program Fisher College.
In that game, Sherif Gross-Bullock, one of six scorers in double-figures, poured in 27 points, while Earl Timberlake neared a triple-double with 15 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.
Gross-Bullock had 28 points against BU, while reserve Rafael Pinzon had 21.
Martelli was named the team's coach Wednesday after Jared Grasso resigned Monday morning.
"(Martelli) was instrumental in building Bryant basketball into one of the top mid-major programs in the country," Bryant vice president of athletics and recreation Bill Smith said in a statement. "With Phil's skills, values and commitment, the future of Bryant basketball is in good hands."
--Field Level Media