Christmas came early for millions of sports fans. Yesterday, November 5th, was the opening day of the 2019-2020 NCAA basketball season. Unfortunately, some fans got coal instead of presents in the form of a loss. FGCU fell to Atlantic 10 opponent, Saint Louis, by a score of 89-67 late Tuesday evening. Despite the lopsided score, there are many takeaways and plenty of silver lining to be found.
The first surprise of the game came before it even started. The starting 5 was released about 10 minutes prior tip off and featured Jalen Warren, Zach Scott, Caleb Catto, and Brian Thomas, as expected. The surprise came by way of, freshman, Qwanzi Samuels getting the nod to start in his first collegiate game.
The Eagles came out swinging and kept pace with the Billikens for the early part of the contest. Saint Louis responded by going on a 17-0 run. The run was highlighted by turnovers, slow defensive rotations, and overall sloppy play for FGCU. The first half ended with the Eagles facing a 40-18 deficit.
FGCU had much more success in the second half. They found a way to get the lid off the basket and several players got hot from 3. The overall second half score for the teams was 49-49. This was obviously not good enough to erase the 22 point first half deficit, but good enough to build off of going forward.
Zach Scott and Caleb Catto picked up right where they left off last season. They each played 30 minutes and look like they could be the leaders on this team going forward. Catto had an extremely efficient game. He shot 6-8 from the floor (2-2 from downtown) and was perfect from the line (2-2). He finished the night with 16 pts, 4 ast, 2 reb, 1 blk, and 1 stl. Scott struggled to get going in the first half but absolutely exploded in the second. He finished with a game high 23 pts after going 8-17 from the field, 5-10 from behind the arc, and 2-2 from the stripe. He also added 3 reb, 2 stl, 1 ast, and 1 blk.
Jalen Warren and Jalen Harper provide the Eagles with true point guards. Through all the highs and lows of the game, it was still clear that each of them has the skills to be the quarterback of the offense. It was equally clear that, at this time, there are on-court chemistry issues and kinks that still need to be worked out through the early part of the season. Warren finished with 4 pts, 3 reb, and 5 ast. Harper struggled in the early but got hot from 3 later in the game. He finished with 9 pts and 2 ast.
Sam Gagliardi flashed how potent he can be from 3 when his shot is falling. Maybe even more encouraging is that it seems like he is a good on-ball defender as well. Specialists are often one-dimensional. With Gagliardi’s solid perimeter defense, he can remain effective even when shots aren’t going his way.
Tracy Hector Jr impressed with smart play, good passing, and versatility. He can truly match up with some with some forwards but is athletic enough to step out and defend the perimeter. He finished with 4 pts, and 4 reb. His senior presence can be useful as the season progresses.
Areas For Growth
Unfortunately, there was very little production from the bigs in this first game. Between the five forwards to suit up for the Eagles (Brian Thomas, Qwanzi Samuels, Dakota Rivers, Justus Rainwater, and Tracy Hector Jr.), only 9 points were scored. Thomas played only 7 minutes and never found his footing. Samuels and Rivers both appear to be explosive, athletic, and versatile. It is clear, however, that it may take some time for their abilities to translate to success on the court. They will have ups and down here in the early part of the season but it will be fun to watch these two develop and reach their high ceilings. Rainwater was probably the most consistent in game one. He was given the tough task of guarding the physically imposing Hasahn French for most of the night. Overall, he accounted for 5 pts and 6 reb.
The biggest factor in the outcome of the game was the amount of shots taken. Each team shot the ball at a similar clip but Saint Louis put up 71 shots to FGCU’s 52. This was made possible by a poor rebounding performance (SLU: 41, FGCU: 28) and losing the turnover battle (SLU: 9, FGCU: 18).
Lastly, it is unknown at this time why Malik Hardy did not suit up for the game. As a transfer who sat out last year, he is a potential difference maker for the Eagles on the offensive end.
The Eagles began their season by battling a tough Atlantic 10 opponent. While this may be a frustrating way to start the season, it is possible that there is more to be learned and gained by losing to a strong opponent rather than beating up on a team that has no business playing against a D-I school. FGCU opens the doors to the nest on Saturday, November 9th to face UMBC. In a drastically different approach, UMBC played its first game against a D-II school and won 134 – 46. It will be interesting to see how each team responds after employing vastly different methods of preparation. I’m inclined to think that playing a weaker opponent can mask deficiencies (passing, communication, sloppy play) on a team that then get brought to light when facing more appropriate competition. Inversely, playing a stronger opponent can help a team address things to better prepare for future games.
Regardless of the outcome, it was great to see FGCU basketball back in action. It is sure to be an exciting season and we at Screecher Report will be here for all of it.