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No. 17 Owls pull away late, top East Carolina 79-64 in American Athletic Conference debut

Johnell Davis, Alijah Martin each score 20
Florida Atlantic Owls guard Johnell Davis vs. East Carolina Pirates guard Cam Davis, Jan. 2, 2024
Posted at 9:44 PM, Jan 02, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-02 21:44:42-05

BOCA RATON, Fla. — Johnell Davis and Alijah Martin each scored 20 points and No. 17 Florida Atlantic shook off a slow start to beat East Carolina 79-64 on Tuesday night in the Owls' debut American Athletic Conference game.

Bryan Greenlee scored 13 off the bench and Vladislav Goldin finished with 11 points and 11 rebounds for the Owls (11-3, 1-0). FAU went on a 14-0 run in the closing minutes, turning a two-point lead into a 16-point edge with 30 seconds left.

Brandon Johnson scored 15 for East Carolina (7-7, 0-1), while Quentin Diboundje added 13 before departing with a lower extremity injury with 5:31 remaining. RJ Felton had 12 for the Pirates, who missed their last eight shots.

East Carolina has now lost 75 of its last 78 games against ranked opponents — and is 0-57 in such games on the road.

A 12-2 run turned a three-point deficit into a 52-45 lead for FAU with 12:15 left. East Carolina simply wouldn't go away, making it a one-possession game — down by three points or less — on six separate occasions in the next seven minutes.

Florida Atlantic Owls center Vladislav Goldin drives to basket vs. East Carolina Pirates forward Brandon Johnson, Jan. 2, 2024
Florida Atlantic center Vladislav Goldin drives to the basket as East Carolina forward Brandon Johnson defends during the second half Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024, in Boca Raton, Fla.

But six straight FAU points, a mini-burst where Greenlee made a 3-pointer and then found Goldin for a 5-footer, gave the Owls what was then their biggest lead, 71-63 with 3:15 left, and they kept pulling away from there.

FAU trailed by as many as eight in the first half, though erased most of that deficit in just 7 seconds. Martin made a 3-pointer and as the shot from the right wing was in the air East Carolina's Ezra Ausar shoved Goldin in the back. The foul gave the Owls an extra possession — and Martin hit another 3, cutting what was a 23-15 deficit to 23-21 on one trip down the floor.

An 8-0 run late in the half put FAU briefly back on top, before East Carolina took a 36-35 lead into the break.