There’s something to be said for arriving fashionably late.
The FGCU men’s basketball team that came into this season with so much hype and such high expectations finally arrived on Saturday, just in time for conference play.
The Eagles shot 69 percent from the field in a first half in which they led by as many as 32, and set sail for a 90-52 win over Stetson in their Atlantic Sun conference opener on Saturday.
“We shared the ball. The ball moved really well, obviously the offense looks a lot better when you shoot it well which we did, we shot extremely well,” Eagles coach Joe Dooley said. “A lot of that comes for taking open shots and getting people open shots, and the guys did a get job of doing that tonight.”
It’s been a confusing and frustrating season for FGCU(10-8, 1-0), who were picked by both the media and coaches to repeat as ASUN champions, as inconsistent play and poor defense, and questionable ball handling started to send warning sirens about the fate of this season’s team.
There was none of that Saturday.
Midway through the first half, the Eagles flew with a 19-0 run to break a 17-12 game wide open, and never looked back.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that it seemed like just everything was going in.
Brandon Goodwin, who had 18 points for the Eagles, found himself on the right wing with the shot clock winding down as he collided with a Stetson player. Goodwin turned toward the basket and heaved a three off-balance at the buzzer. It went in, putting the Eagles up 32-12.
“We’ve been preaching it’s a new season, non-conference is behind us,” Goodwin said. “We proved to ourselves if we play together we can have fun with it and win games and play a lot better.”
Zach Johnson led the Eagles with 19 points, 16 of them in the first half, on 7-of-11 shooting and 5-of-7 from beyond the arc. Johnson hit a pair of threes back to back late in the first half, the last of which made it 48-20 Eagles.
“It was the energy, we were able to feed off each other,” Johnson said. “Whoever it was scoring the ball, we were happy to be out there and we were having fun and had a little bit of swagger that’s been missing from these last couple games.”
Just a few hours after the women’s team crushed Stetson by 40, 80-40, the Eagles surpassed the gap briefly in the second half, leading by as many as 44, after a Michael Gilmore three-point play with 6:21 remaining made it 85-41.
“We’ve practiced better the last 10 days to two weeks, it didn’t show on Sunday but sometimes it doesn’t always show in the game. To the guys defense they were probably a little tired on Sunday cause we [practiced] a little long,” Dooley said. “This week was good, we went twice a day with the exception of yesterday and we were able to get a lot of shooting in and get some things tightened up.”
There was a lot to like for Eagle fans on Saturday.
Rebounding, long a problem for FGCU this season, wasn’t, as the Eagles doubled up Stetson, 42-21 on the glass. Of course, part of that can be explained by Stetson going 32 percent from the floor(17-of-60) to FGCU’s 60 percent(30-of-50), but on the Eagles 20 misses from the floor, they got the rebound on eight of them.
“I think one of the things the guys did a great job of doing is being on a string with each other,” Dooley said. “When guys did have shots we contested, even if it was a late contest.”
Of course, there have been these flashes of seeming to put it together before – not as thoroughly as Saturday – but there have been those flashes. A win on the road against UT-Arlington, a close loss against No. 11 Wichita State, to name a couple, but those were followed up by headscratching losses.
Can the Eagles keep their mojo in four days when USC-Upstate comes to town on Thursday?
“It’s a confidence builder, but it’s one game and we have to keep building on it and getting better,” Johnson said.
BIG LIFT FROM BIG FRESHMAN
Freshman Brian Thomas made his first appearance since Nov. 18 after recovering from a broken hand. Thomas a 6-foot-9 rim protector, gave the Eagles some size and strength down low that they’ve been missing this year.
Thomas scored four points, and had eight rebounds in 17 minutes of play.
“Big fella does some things [for us], he protects the rim. He’s going to be a good player he just needs minutes,” Dooley said. “It’s good to get him back out there. These guys know in practice, when you get around the rim you have to account for him and he’s got a knack for rebounding the ball.”
NUMBERS TO KNOW
38 – Saturday’s 38-point win was the largest margin of victory for FGCU ever against an ASUN opponent. The previous mark was 33, in an 89-56 dismantling of North Florida in an ASUN tournament semifinal on Mar. 3, 2016.
60 – 60 percent from the field was FGCU’s best shooting night of the season, and their best effort since shooting 66.7 percent against NAIA Florida National on Dec. 22, 2016.
4 – Four Eagles scored in double figures, Johnson(19), Goodwin(18), Dinero Mercurius(13), and Christian Terrell(10).
Lipscomb, Jan. 18
Kennesaw State, Jan. 20
North Florida, Jan. 24
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