FGCU drops season-opener after turnover flurry

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The FGCU men’s basketball team turned it over 22 times in their season-opener Tuesday, leading to a 74-66 loss to Illinois State.

The Eagles trailed most of the game and fell behind by as many as 14 in the second half, but even with the turnover bug were within striking distance late in the game. Back-to-back threes by Schradac Casimir cut a 70-60 gap to 70-66 after the second one fell for the Iona graduate transfer with 1:35 to go.

But after a pair of free throws from the Redbirds(1-0), Casimir missed on his next trip down the floor, and Illinois State was able to add two more at the line and put the game away.

FGCU(0-1) led the opening minutes of the game, the new-look team under first-year head coach Michael Fly opening with a Ricky Doyle slam to start the season, and led 8-2 after the first five minutes, before a string of turnovers, five of them in eight trips down the floor allowed Illinois State to tie it up at 13. Another stretch of four straight turnover turned into six Redbirds points, giving them a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

“I thought we hit them good at first,” Fly said. “But after they hit us back, we staggered a little bit instead of fighting right back.  I thought we took a few quick shots, for a minute or two, we stopped moving the ball and went 1-on-1 a little bit too much. A lot of these guys haven’t played together before tonight.  Our goal is to continue to get better and be at our best when it matters the most.”

Of the 10 players that played for the Eagles Tuesday, only four saw any playing time last season, and only one, Christian Carlyle, has played more than a season. That led to many off-target passes and miscommunications, while Illinois State turned those turnovers into 22 points.

Casimir led the Eagles with 18 points, coming off a 6-of-7 shooting night from the three-point line. Marquette transfer Haanif Cheatham scored 10, but when 4-of-11 from the floor, while Dinero Mercurius scored 11.

Incoming freshmen Zach Scott and Caleb Catto played sparingly, six minutes for Scott and 10 for Catto, with Scott scoring on a first-half layup. Catto missed his only two shots, both threes, and recorded four rebounds. UNLV transfer Troy Baxter played 16 minutes, limited by fouls, but scored seven in that time including a right-hand jam in the first half. Junior college transfer Decardo Day had five points of 2-of-9 shooting.

The Eagles were without Brian Thomas, out with a broken foot, and Raysean Scott Jr., who has what’s being called a minor knee injury. They return home for a non-Division I opponent in Southeastern on Thursday before traveling to Michigan State on Sunday.

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