BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – Nicholas Boyd scored 16 points, Alijah Martin added 15 off the bench and No. 24 Florida Atlantic used a second-half surge to edge Western Kentucky 76-62 Monday night for its 16th straight victory.
Hours after qualifying for the first time in school history, the Owls (17-1, 7-0 Conference USA) led 34-33 at halftime before shooting 54% to open a close game. . Martin’s layup with 7:58 remaining sparked a 7-0 run for a 69-55 lead as FAU outscored W. Kentucky (11-7, 3-4) 18-12 in the final 10 minutes. The Hilltoppers never got closer than seven the rest of the way.
“We just put out a number of challenges to teams that also play bigger rosters than us, just to cover a small roster like us,” FAU coach Dusty May said. “We try to use that to our advantage. That’s how we’re built.”
Dayvion McKnight had 15 points and Jordan Rawls 13 for W. Kentucky, whose three-game winning streak in the conference was snapped.
Nick Boyd was 6 of 10 from the field, including 3 of 6 from long range. Johnell Davis also came off the bench to add 14 points for the Owls.
FAU made 19 of 26 free throws and finished with a 43-25 rebounding advantage.
“We have to be physical with our blocks and, more importantly, we need five guys who will really attack the ball, use our speed and therefore we can come out in transition,” May said. “We are, year after year, one of the best rebounding teams in the league.”
W. Kentucky returned to play without head coach Rick Stansbury, who has been out with an undisclosed health issue since the Dec. 22 game at South Carolina. Associate head coach Phil Cunningham has managed the team in Stansbury’s absence.
The win helped Florida Atlantic keep the second-longest current winning streak in the country intact and helped the Owls take the lead in the C-USA standings at 7-0.
Western Kentucky lost a chance to keep the momentum going after winning three straight. The Hilltoppers last beat a ranked team in 2018 when they defeated No. 15 Wisconsin 83-75 on December 29, 2018 at Bowling Green.
“They came into a hostile environment and they played very well,” Cunningham said. “They are an experienced team, tough and physical, and they took the shots they needed to make them. So all the credit goes to them.”
Jamarion Sharp, the 7-foot-5 center from W. Kentucky, the top shot blocker in the nation, finished with four blocks against FAU and became the school’s all-time leader with 225 blocks in just two seasons at school.
UNTIL NEXT TIME
Florida Atlantic visits UTSA on Thursday night.
Western Kentucky visits Louisiana Tech on Thursday night.
No. 24 FAU Defeats W Kentucky 76-62 For First Ranked Victory Originally appeared on NBCSports.com