Published On: Wed, Feb 5th, 2020

Powering Forward: Looking at how FAU Men’s Basketball has dealt with adversity this season

FAU head coach Dusty May talks with the team during a game earlier this season. Photo provided by FAU Sports

When the 2019-2020 Florida Atlantic University Men’s Basketball season tipped off in November, expectations of another winning season with a postseason tournament berth seemed unlikely, as inexperience would become a factor over the course of the season.

However, with February just starting, the Owls are still hoping to keep those expectations alive. With a 14-9 overall record, and a 6-4 record in Conference USA, the Owls are currently tied for fourth in the conference standings with the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and in-state rival Florida International University.

While much of FAU’s season so far has acted as a roller coaster filled with ups and downs, the team has found ways to win, including a thrilling 97-94 overtime victory over Middle Tennessee on Jan. 16 and most recently defeating 2018 C-USA Champion, Marshall University, 91-73, on Saturday, Feb. 1.

Despite the downs of losing three games in a row to the University of Alabama Birmingham, 68-65, on Jan. 18, the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, 70-68, on Jan. 23 and Old Dominion, 65-55, on Jan. 25, the Owls and head coach Dusty May are currently on a two-game win streak and have kept their composure throughout the season.

“I feel like we’re definitely making progress towards being a special program,” May said. “There’s been highs and lows, but we feel like we’re going to play our best basketball [between] late February and early March, so hopefully [we can] make a run.”

May, who is in his second year with the Owls, helped the team receive their first postseason tournament invitation since 2011 last season when they played Charleston Southern University in the first round of the Collegeinsider.com Tournament. Despite losing the game, 68-66, May’s experience in the postseason is what has kept the team motivated thus far, as he reached the Elite Eight round in the 2017 NCAA Tournament when he was an assistant coach for the University of Florida.

Although FAU hasn’t appeared in the NCAA Tournament since their first time in 2002 when they lost to the University of Alabama in the opening round, 86-78, there is still some optimism that they could make an appearance this season. Prior to that though, they’ll have to win the C-USA Tournament that runs from March 11 to March 14, which they also haven’t done since that same year.

“We definitely have the potential to reach the NCAA Tournament and win the conference, but right now we’re just taking it one game at a time,” forward Jailyn Ingram said. “The season started off pretty good, [but now we’re just] trying to find our rhythm again.”

With the home wins over Western Kentucky University on Jan. 30, that snapped the Hilltoppers five-game winning streak, and Marshall, FAU’s rhythm looks as if it has been found and Ingram is one to thank due to averaging almost 11 points a game and leading the team in rebounds, averaging five per game.

Even though he missed back-to-back games on Jan. 9 against Rice University and Jan. 11 against the University of North Texas due to concussion-like symptoms, Ingram hasn’t lost a step as one of the team’s veteran leaders, especially since he was out for a majority of last season after tearing his ACL against Arkansas State University on Dec. 14, 2018.

“With Jailyn missing last year, we knew there was going to be a little bit of rust coming into this season,” May said. “We feel he’s starting to find his stride now and everyone on the team looks to him for his response to [certain] things [during games].”

Not only has Ingram’s presence, both on and off the court, helped the team keep their winning record alive, but guards Everett Winchester and Cornellius Taylor have also contributed.

Winchester, prior to tearing his meniscus and being declared out for the season, helped with rebounding and assists in the 17 games he played in, but has now transformed into a vocal leader, supporting his teammates from the sideline. Meanwhile, Taylor, who is in his first year with the Owls after transferring as a graduate student from Division II Lincoln Memorial University, has received praise from May and has played in all 23 games, where he’s led the team in points per game scored, averaging 12.6 points, according to ESPN.

Despite Winchester’s early exit this season, other guards, such as sophomore Michael Forrest and junior Richardson Maitre have also stepped up in his absence, in which Forrest is third on the team in points per game with 10 and Maitre leads the team in assists with 2.5 per game and steals with 1.2 per game.

“Losing Winchester really hurt us because we came into the season thinking we were going to count on him for a lot of defense, moving the ball and being an athletic playmaker to get in the paint,” May said. “[However, Taylor, Forrest and Maitre], being our smaller guards, have all brought a competitive nature and most importantly they’ve shot the ball well and defended.”

As FAU has four remaining games left in the regular season, with the next two being back-to-back games against FIU that is away today and at home on Saturday, the team will continue to build off of their physical toughness and athleticism, that May described as the strengths, and look to improve their concentration and have fewer turnovers, described as the weaknesses.

“We get up 15 or 20 and let our guard down instead of having the killer mindset that we’re going to step on their necks and keep going at it,” May said. “Despite dropping some games, we like the direction we’re heading and I feel like we’re building a sustainable program.”

 

About the Author

- Justin Baronoff is currently a junior at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL. He is pursuing a major in Multimedia Journalism, where he hopes to some day write for major news media publications, such as the New York Times, ESPN, or even Billboard Magazine. In high school, Justin wrote for his high school newspaper for three years where he was a staff reporter for the first two years before becoming the Sports Editor in his final year. At FAU during the first semester of his sophomore year, he began interning for isportsweb.com, where he wrote about and covered his favorite professional football team, the New York Jets, and his favorite professional basketball team, the New York Knicks. Then during his second semester of his sophomore year, he began writing for FAU's student newspaper, the University Press, as a contributing writer. Justin now serves a News Writer Intern for the Boca Raton Tribune.

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