HOUSTON -- FAU had the ball up a point with less than 15 seconds remaining. There was a 6.2-second difference between the game clock and the shot clock and multiple ways for the Owls to secure a trip to the championship game of the 2023 NCAA Tournament.
They seemed on the verge of a Final Four victory.
Once San Diego State had earlier opted not to foul and extend the game, FAU's best path to a win involved running as much clock as possible before shooting to ensure that no matter what happened next -- a made shot, a missed shot, a foul, whatever -- San Diego State would get the ball back with as little time left as possible, that is if San Diego State even got the ball back at all. Which is why it was surprising when Johnell Davis started to drive to the basket with a full six seconds remaining on the shot clock. Because when he subsequently missed a contested shot near the rim, San Diego State rebounded it with 3.3 seconds left on the shot clock and 9.5 seconds remaining on the game clock.
What happened next, you probably know.
SDSU's Nathan Mensah quickly got the ball to Lamont Butler, who raced up the court and sank a jumper at the buzzer that lifted the Aztecs to a 72-71 victory Saturday night here inside NRG Stadium. So Brian Dutcher's team will instead play for the national championship Monday. And FAU's season is over.
"We are extremely proud of our guys' effort and the ride they took us on for five or six months or however long it's been," said FAU coach Dusty May. "These guys laid it on the line every single practice, every single workout, weight session, film session. They put a lot into this -- and sometimes it just doesn't go your way. There's only one team in this tournament that's gonna end on a win. Unfortunately it's not us."
Did Davis go too early at the end?
Yes, I think so.
But any more time spent on that would be time spent not focusing on the incredible season FAU just completed and the bright future the program seems to have. So let's turn our attention in that direction.
What. A. Season.
This FAU program that was picked fifth in the Conference USA preseason poll, that had never won a game in any NCAA Tournament as recently as 15 days ago, that has never had an alum play a single second in the NBA, was literally just one stop away from playing in Monday's title game. The Owls were a second away from becoming the most unlikely championship-game participant in history.
Final record: 35-4.
Final KenPom ranking: 17th.
FAU won its first C-USA regular-season title, first C-USA Tournament title and obviously advanced to the Final Four for the first time too. The Owls didn't go on a great run as much as they had a great season, one that included a 20-game winning streak and NCAA Tournament victories over Kansas State, Tennessee and Memphis.
It really was incredible.
And this could be just beginning.
That's because every FAU player besides Michael Forrest is eligible to return next season -- and none of them seem likely to enter the 2023 NBA Draft. Will FAU need to, one way or another, line up name image and likeness deals for some of these players to prevent bigger schools from bigger conferences from essentially buying them away? Yes, probably. But assuming May can hold it together as his program transitions from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference, the Owls will return all five starters from a 35-win team and likely be the preseason favorite in the AAC. For what it's worth, I'll have FAU in the top 10 of Monday night's debut of the CBS Sports preseason Top 25 And 1.
Bottom line, FAU could and should pick up right where it left off. So Saturday night ending the way it ended surely stings, especially considering the Owls led by 14 points with 13:38 remaining. But there's no reason next season shouldn't also be filled with way more wins than losses, and the idea of FAU making back-to-back trips to the Final Four isn't nearly as crazy as it would've sounded in November if you would've told anybody that we'd watch FAU do what we all just watched FAU do.