With Kansas State waiting in the shadows to face the winner in the Elite 8, Tennessee and Florida Atlantic would meet on the hardwood of Madison Square Garden to decide who would be left to battle the Wildcats on Saturday. As expected, an Australian Rugby match broke out between the Volunteers and Owls. Tennessee and FAU lacked in scoring made up for the rugged nature of the game. For old-school basketball lovers, Thursday’s Sweet 16 between the Volunteers and Owls provided a blast from the past. Nostalgic flashes of old-school Big East Tournaments at Madison Square would provide historical context for the grudge match between Tennessee and FAU.
Despite Tennessee taking a five-point lead to the halftime break, it was Florida Atlantic, and their streaking shooting would send Tennessee back to Knoxville with a season-ending loss. Despite being the most physical team in the 2023 NCAA Tournament, Tennessee failed to have the offensive production needed to win on Thursday night. No doubt, Head Coach Rick Barnes and his Volunteers had every opportunity to bury the Owls, but the Volunteers would go long stretches without making a basket, and FAU would go on runs where they couldn’t miss.
However, with 3:14 remaining, Tennessee would cut the FAU lead to 55-50 to have one final stand to keep the Volunteers’ season alive. Tennessee would need their defense to do what Tennessee does best and create a chance on the other end of the court for the Volunteers to cut into the lead just a bit more. Following an FAU miss, Tennessee would miss two putback attempts before the Owls came down with the rebound pushing the tempo in transition and extending the FAU lead to 57-50 with 2:15 remaining in the game.
A nine-point, 59-50 FAU lead with 1:37 in the game would be too much for the Volunteers to overcome. Florida Atlantic would finish the Volunteers 62-55 to advance to the school’s first Elite Eight.
Credit though, Flordia Atlantic has now won 34 games in the 2023-2023 season; they might be a nine-seed, but Head Coach Dusty May has a damn good basketball team that will give Kansas State fits on Saturday. Florida Atlantic wanted the win on Thursday night a lot more than Tennessee, the Volunteers have better talent, and the Owls had the heart and the discipline needed to survive and advance in the NCAA Tournament.