Florida Gulf Coast Eagles vs. Florida Atlantic Owls Pick & Prediction DECEMBER 30th 2023

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By reaching the Final Four in April, Florida Atlantic became the latest Cinderella story in college basketball.

By winning a double-overtime game with No. 4 Arizona last Saturday in Las Vegas, the Owls might have proved they can shed the Cinderella label for another one: a national championship contender.

The 96-95 victory over the Wildcats might be the biggest regular-season win in FAU history and powered it into the top 10 at No. 7. The Owls will try to stay in the top 10 Saturday night with a trip across the state to Fort Myers for a non-conference matchup with Florida Gulf Coast.

Playing three time zones and a couple of thousand miles from home with a pro-Arizona crowd on hand, Florida Atlantic outshot a former No. 1 team and came up with all the big plays when it really mattered. Johnell Davis pumped in 35 points, one off his career high, and grabbed nine rebounds.

“I just try to go out there and play each game the same,” he said. “When we get in between the lines, just compete.”

Making the victory even more impressive was that the Owls’ leading scorer and rebounder going into the game, 7-foot-1 Vladislav Goldin, was held to seven points and three rebounds before fouling out early in the first overtime.

“It felt like a high-level basketball game,” Florida Atlantic coach Dusty May said. “This felt like a February game with the conference championship on the line.”

Davis averages a team-best 16.3 points per game, while Goldin is contributing 14.4 points per game and shooting a Division I-best 74.2 percent from the field. Alijah Martin averages 12.8 points for the Owls, who boast the 10th-best field goal percentage at 50.8.

Meanwhile, Florida Gulf Coast (5-9) needed overtime on Dec. 22 to record a 78-75 victory over NAIA opponent Florida Memorial. Blaise Vespe supplied a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired on a shot that hit the back rim, skied above the backboard and then dropped through the net.

“You know how many times that’s happened to us this year? It feels like that happened to us every game,” second-year Eagles coach Pat Chambers said. “I felt like this one time, the basketball gods were looking down on us and going, ‘We’re going to throw one your way.'”

Making that shot even more remarkable was that Vespe was playing in only his third game of the season and hadn’t scored prior to that sequence.

“For my first basket of the season to come like this is very special to me,” he said.

The result allowed Florida Gulf Coast to string together consecutive wins for the first time this season.

The Eagles have been led offensively by Isaiah Thompson (14.0 points per game), Princeton transfer Keeshawn Kellman (12.4 points, 6.9 rebounds) and Zach Anderson (11.4 points).

FAU owns a 4-3 lead in the series, including an 85-53 rout last season.

–Field Level Media

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