The FGCU men’s basketball team continued it’s strong Atlantic Sun start on Thursday, as hot outside shooting in the first half led the Eagles to a not nearly as close as it looks 75-58 win over USC-Upstate at Alico Arena.
It took a few minutes for the Eagles to get the ball rolling, starting the game 3-of-13 from the field, but once the shots got falling, it didn’t take FGCU long to pull away from one of the nation’s worst defensive teams.
“Once we got going in transition and got stops, I thought it all started on the defensive end again,” Eagles coach Joe Dooley said. “They shot 19 percent in the first half, and we were able to play a lot of bodies and run because we got stops.”
Dinero Mercurius hit three straight three-pointers, part of a 21-4 stretch to end the first half which saw FGCU hit five threes in a row. Mercurius started the run with a layup on a feed from Brandon Goodwin, then hit a pair of threes from the right wing, followed by a wide-open triple from the left corner, interspersed with a surprise three from Raysean Scott Jr. Mercurius finished with 13 points.
“The first thing I think about is helping my team win, that’s the ultimate goal,” Mercurius said. “It makes the job a lot easier for the other guys…whenever my shot is falling.”
When Scott flushed home a drive on a backdoor cut from the baseline, the Eagles(11-8, 2-0 ASUN) led 38-17 at the half. They shot 50 percent from the floor, including 6-of-11(54.5 percent) from the three. Going into the game, the Spartans were allowing a Division I worst 42.8 percent from three, and a confounding 47 percent against Division I opponents.
“Dinero was big, but also Zach hit one in transition where he pulled up. I do think with Dinero, Zach, and Brandon, and Christian Carlyle shooting the ball better this year and obviously [Christian Terrell] you’ve got enough guys that you can stretch the floor,” Dooley said. “All those things make the floor bigger so we can drive.”
The Spartans hold a series of dubious distinctions on the stat sheets, including being the nation’s worst rebounding team, coming in being outrebounded by a worst in the country 6.2 per game. The Eagles, who have struggled on the glass for most of the season, outrebounded Upstate 47-34.
Johnson led the Eagles with 17 points, going 8-of-11 from the floor. After a 38-point drubbing of Stetson to open conference play, Zach Johnson said the Eagles were getting their swagger back. That viewpoint hasn’t changed after a game which saw FGCU lead by as many as 29 before putting in the reserves for the closing minutes.
“Every game, every practice, everything that we do you have to do with a certain swagger. It’s the only way that we can play with toughness,” Johnson said. “I felt like we made a lot of toughness plays tonight, diving on the floor and getting loose balls. That’s the swagger that we need, not so much pretty boy but toughness.”
Avery Diggs led USC-Upstate(5-13, 0-2) with 12 points.
The Eagles look like a vastly different team than the one that lost six out of seven to start the month of December.
“It’s locking in, paying attention to detail.” Johnson said. “Everybody is doing their job, their part playing for each other and sharing the ball.”
Another key improvement has been on the glass, particularly from the guards. Goodwin finished with nine rebounds to go with seven points, while Christian Terrell had a 7-and-7 night.
“The thing we keep talking about with our guards is if they rebound we can play faster,” Dooley said. “Zach and those guys need to do a better job rebounding the ball. We can’t just rely on the frontline guys.”
NUMBERS TO KNOW
101-96 – Lipscomb, likely the biggest threat to FGCU in the ASUN, lost by this scoreline to North Florida in Jacksonville on Thursday.
20 – The Eagles had 20 fast break points.
10-1 – When the defense shows up for FGCU, they win games. The Eagles are 10-1 this season when holding teams to fewer than 80 points. Wichita State has been the lone exception.
NJIT, Saturday(doubleheader with women’s)
at Lipscomb, Thursday
at Kennesaw State, Jan. 20
at North Florida, Jan. 24
Jacksonville, Jan. 27
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