Was first-round March Madness exit Dusty May's finale as Florida Atlantic coach?

Fri, Mar 22, 2024
NCAAB News (AP)

Was first-round March Madness exit Dusty May's finale as Florida Atlantic coach?

NEW YORK (AP) - If this was Dusty May's finale at Florida Atlantic, he was nothing but grateful.

After coaching FAU to an unexpected Final Four appearance last year, May and his eighth-seeded Owls were knocked out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday with a 77-65 overtime loss to No. 9 seed Northwestern.

Naturally, there's speculation May could now leave for a bigger job after putting Florida Atlantic on the college basketball map.

"We're really proud of the program that he's built and the team, proud of the success they've been able to accomplish," FAU athletic director Brian White said. "And I know he's proud of that as well. And that's probably what's most important to him and us right now. And I think our goal is going to continue to build the FAU basketball program and support our student-athletes as best we can."

White said he plans to meet with May soon, as he normally would, to assess the season and what's next.

May, who agreed to a 10-year contract extension last April, might be the hottest name on the coaching market. A former student manager for Bob Knight at Indiana, the 47-year-old May has been most frequently linked to Louisville, which fired Kenny Payne last week - a long-expected move at a blue-blood program that won only 12 games the past two seasons. He is also expected to draw interest from Michigan and Vanderbilt.

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But after the loss to Northwestern in Brooklyn, May was thinking about his current players.

"Like to express gratitude for taking so many people on a great ride, and we had great moments today," May said. "Credit Northwestern. They are statistically better in almost every facet of the game, and we just were not at our best and they made enough plays to win."

FAU reached the Final Four last season as a No. 9 seed, winning Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games at Madison Square Garden in New York, before losing to San Diego State on Lamont Butler's buzzer-beater in the national semifinals at Houston.

After moving from Conference USA to the American Athletic Conference, the Owls brought back 14 of 15 players and were one of only five Division I programs that didn't have a single player enter the transfer portal. They opened the season ranked No. 10 in the AP Top 25 and beat then-No. 4 Arizona in double overtime in December, but were coming off a hard-to-explain 74-73 loss to 11th-seeded Temple in the AAC semifinals.

Against Northwestern, the Owls were undone by a season-high 21 turnovers and 18.5% shooting from 3-point territory (5 of 27).

"We've had that fight in us pretty consistently for the last couple years," May said. "This is the first time we've lost consecutive games in two years. It's the first time we've lost by double digits in a long, long time."

The defeat was a little bittersweet, too. May played his high school ball in Indiana for the father of Northwestern guard Brooks Barnhizer, who drove for the tying layup with 9 seconds left in regulation and finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

Barnhizer said Thursday that May was sort of like his father's "first son," and the two families are very close.

"When March comes around, there's a lot of really cool stories," Barnhizer said after Friday's game. "I have the utmost respect for Coach May and, really, after I was in the back of the (handshake) line, we just told each other that we love each other. We are super close. But I'm really glad that we got the win and super, super proud of him. That's all I can really say because it gets a little emotional in March. But I'm super proud of him."

In the first half, Barnhizer went flying over the press table in pursuit of a loose ball along the sideline.

"Proud of him. He plays the game to win," May said. "Now that our time is up, he'll be the guy I'm rooting for going forward."

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AP College Sports Writer Ralph D. Russo contributed to this report.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness

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