FAU’s second-half surge extends Sweet 16 misery for Vols

AP photo by Frank Franklin II / Florida Atlantic guard Michael Forrest (11) drives as Tennessee guard Josiah-Jordan James defends during the second half of an NCAA tournament Sweet 16 game Thursday night at New York City's Madison Square Garden.

The Sweet 16 continues to be anything but sweet for Tennessee.

A promising NCAA tournament run highlighted by last Saturday's double-digit thumping of Duke came to an abrupt end Thursday night as the East Region's fourth-seeded Volunteers were upset by ninth-seeded Florida Atlantic University, 62-55, inside New York City's Madison Square Garden. It was Tennessee's ninth all-time appearance in the Sweet 16, where the Vols are now 1-8 in such contests.

Tennessee's only Sweet 16 win came against Ohio State in 2010, but the Vols then lost to Michigan State in the Elite Eight.

FAU used an 18-2 run in the second half to turn a 39-33 deficit into a 51-41 lead. Michael Forrest connected on consecutive 3-pointers to give the Owls a 41-39 lead, their first since it was 3-2, and an Alijah Martin 3 made it 48-41 with 7:33 remaining.

A 3-pointer by Josiah-Jordan James with 3:37 left pulled Tennessee within 55-50, but the Vols never made it a one-possession game again.

The Owls improved to 34-3 and have an Elite Eight date Saturday with Kansas State, which outlasted Michigan State 98-93 in overtime in Thursday's first East Region semifinal. The Vols end their season with a 25-11 record.

Johnell Davis led FAU with 15 points, while Nicholas Boyd added 12 and Forrest 11. James and Jonas Aidoo scored 10 points apiece for the Vols, while Santiago Vescovi added nine and Uros Plavsic eight.

Two inside baskets from Plavsic and 3-pointers from James, Vescovi and Tyreke Key staked Tennessee to a 17-8 advantage in the first eight minutes. The three early 3-pointers were more than the Vols had during the first 38 minutes of their last trip to Madison Square Garden early last season, when they were just 2-of-30 in an eventual 6-of-39 performance from long range in a 57-52 overtime loss to Texas Tech.

Tennessee led by nine on two more occasions during the first half before taking a 27-22 lead into intermission. The Vols made just 31.3% of their shots (10-of-32) in the first 20 minutes but forced nine first-half turnovers and held the Owls to 21.4% shooting (3-of-14) from 3-point range in their lowest first-half output of the season.

Vescovi made two more 3-pointers within the first four minutes of the second half to push Tennessee's lead back out to 33-26.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.