CHICAGO -- — Tenth-ranked Florida Atlantic came in with its highest ranking and the expectations to match. The Owls are off to a good start.
Vladislav Goldin tied a career-high 19 points and set one with 10 rebounds and FAU beat Loyola Chicago 75-62 in the teams’ season opener on Wednesday night.
Goldin also set personal bests with five blocks and four steals.
Nick Boyd scored 13, while Johnell Davis and Brandon Weatherspoon added 12 apiece. Boyd and Weatherspoon each hit three 3-pointers, and the balanced Owls showed why they have their sights on the NCAA championship coming off a surprising run to the Final Four. With all five starters back and only one player gone from a team that went 35-4 and got knocked out by San Diego State in the semis on a buzzer-beating jumper, FAU is off to a good start.
“Just to put closure on last year,” coach Dusty May said. “It was a special season, but as a coach, as a program and as a group of players still chasing their individual goals and dreams, it was nice just to move on to the next chapter and see what this team can become.”
Goldin sounded as if he has turned the page.
“New team, new season, new chapter," he said.
May was an assistant at Florida during the 2017-18 season when Loyola knocked off the fifth-ranked Gators for their first win over a top-five team since 1984. The Ramblers won 32 games and stunned the nation with a Final Four run.
There were no surprises this time, though FAU didn't exactly have an easy go of it. Though there were no lead changes, Loyola didn't go quietly.
The Owls went on a 17-2 run in the first half to break open a two-point game. They withstood several pushes in the second half by Loyola — no stranger to surprising Final Four runs — and opened their sixth season under May on a winning note.
Philip Alston scored 15 for the Ramblers, who are trying to bounce back from a 10-win season.
“Big picture, that is a top-10 team and it's our first game of the year so that's a gauge, that's where we want to be by the end of the year,” he said. “I thought that gives us a little confidence that obviously we know we can play with anybody.”
Sister Jean, who became a celebrity during Loyola's Final Four run, was on hand for the game, which was part of a doubleheader sponsored by Barstool Sports, with Arizona State playing Mississippi State later. The beloved 104-year-old nun had to like what she was seeing when Alston scored in the paint to cut it to 24-22.
Weatherspoon quickly quieted the crowd at Wintrust Arena — about 10 miles south of Loyola's home on the Far North Side — when he nailed a 3 to start a 17-2 run. Bryan Greenlee finished it with a layup that bumped the lead to 41-24 with 1:47 remaining in the half.
FAU led by 18 early in the second before Loyola scored 11 straight, pulling within 50-43 on a corner 3 by Patrick Mwamba. But FAU regrouped.
It was 56-48 when Goldin scored on a hook. Boyd scored on a fastbreak layup, Weatherspoon hit a free throw and Jalen Gaffney hit a jumper to bump the lead to 63-48 with just under eight minutes remaining.
FAU: The Owls are as deep and balanced as any team, and they answered every time Loyola made a push.
Loyola: The Ramblers at least put up a fight against a championship contender. That's promising for a team that went 10-21 last season.
FAU: The Owls look to go to 2-0 when they host Eastern Michigan on Tuesday.
Loyola: The Ramblers will try to bounce back when Eastern Illinois visits Gentile Arena on Saturday. ------
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- Lamar Simpson
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