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No. 21 FAU returns from perfect trip to face Middle Tennessee

Florida Atlantic Owls head coach Dusty May coaches from the sideline in the second half. The Florida Gators men  s basketball team hosted the Florida Atlantic Owls at Billy Donovan Court at Exactech Arena in Gainesville, FL on Monday, November 14, 2022. Florida Atlantic defeated Florida 76-74.  [Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun]

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Credit: Doug Engle / USA TODAY NETWORK

Florida Atlantic continues to approach program milestones as it returns home to face Middle Tennessee on Thursday night in Boca Raton, Fla.

The Owls (19-1, 9-0 Conference USA), ranked No. 21 this week after cracking the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in school history last week, have won a program-record 18 consecutive games and are two wins away from matching the program record for victories in a season.

After sweeping a three-game road trip that was capped by a 67-59 win at UTEP on Saturday, Florida Atlantic plays back-to-back home games in three days.

“Our guys can walk into any environment and match the other team’s toughness, energy and determination,” Florida Atlantic coach Dusty May said.

Johnell Davis continued to pace the Owls on Saturday, scoring 20 points on 6-of-9 shooting and going 6-for-6 from the free-throw line. Davis (12.7 points per game), Alijah Martin (12.2) and Vladislav Goldin (10.1) have led a balanced scoring effort as the Owls have five players averaging 9.2 or more points.

Florida Atlantic played one of its worst games in conference this season against the Miners, getting outrebounded 43-40 and committing a season-worst 20 turnovers. Still, they jumped all over UTEP by scoring the game’s first 12 points and led throughout.

“For our guys to go on this road trip in this swing of five games in 11 days and three games in six days, with the tough travel that we have — we’re pretty far away from home — and come away with five wins is a testament to their determination and character more than anything else,” May said.

Middle Tennessee (13-7, 6-3) will face Florida Atlantic in the first of two meetings this season. The Blue Raiders are on a four-game winning streak, with their most recent victory coming at Louisiana Tech on Saturday, 68-51. The Thursday contest will be the second game of a three-game road trip.

While Florida Atlantic struggled at times in its latest game, Middle Tennessee is coming off its biggest win since early December.

The Blue Raiders picked up only their second victory ever at Louisiana Tech and showed off their depth as the bench outscored the Bulldogs’ reserves 36-12.

Middle Tennessee finished with 16 assists, tied for its second-highest total this season. Teafale Lenard Jr. contributed a team-high four assists in addition to scoring 11 points.

“I thought our team just did a really good job of sharing the ball,” Middle Tennessee coach Nick McDevitt said. “They trapped us at times tonight. We didn’t look flustered. Didn’t turn it over.”

The Blue Raiders also performed well at the defensive end, holding the Bulldogs to 3-of-21 shooting from 3-point range while they shot 47.8 percent themselves from long range — their third-highest mark of the season.

Elias King led Middle Tennessee with a career-high 17 points, and Eli Lawrence, the team’s leading scorer on the season at 12 points per game, had four of the Blue Raiders’ 11 steals.

“I just thought on both sides of the ball, it was as connected as we’ve looked all year,” McDevitt said.

–Field Level Media