PREVIEW: FGCU Looks to Bounce Back in Final Road Game of the Regular Season @ NJIT – 2/22

FGCU (8-20, 5-8) is set to play their final road game of the regular season against NJIT (8-18, 5-8). Last time these teams faced, the Eagles lost a tough battle at home 56-54. Most Recently, the Highlanders beat Stetson in a convincing way (78-69). FGCU will have had a week long break after a deflating 64-54 loss to Lipscomb. The Eagles are technically still fighting for a 4th seed but the likelihood is pretty low and they must win out to have any shot at all. More realistically, FGCU should hope to place 6th or better to avoid playing Liberty or UNF in the first round. Regardless, the first step to better seeding is winning the game in front of them. In this case, that’s against NJIT. Below, we will highlight some of the Highlanders’ impact players, discuss potential matchups, and give our predictions.

The Players

San Antonio Brinson (#2)

Brinson has significantly increased his offensive output over the course of his career. The 6’8″ / 200 lb forward has played in 24 games so far, making 22 starts. His points per game have risen from 6 (as a sophomore) to now 11 as a junior, to go along with 5 rebounds. He is shooting 42% from the floor and 35% from beyond the arc. Additionally, Brinson has exploded at times in ASUN play. He is averaging 13 points and 5 rebounds in 13 conference games, including a monstrous 37 point effort against UNF and a 25 point outing versus UNA. Recently though, Brinson has averaged only 3 points over the last 3 games. Additionally, he was relatively ineffective against the Eagles the first time around, scoring only 4 points.

Zach Cooks (#4)

Cooks has been terrorizing the ASUN since he burst onto the scene as a freshman 2 years ago. The 5’9″ / 155 lb junior guard has continued his upward trajectory this season, averaging 19 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 assists. He has started all 26 games for the Highlanders this season and plays a whopping 37 minutes per night. From a percentage standpoint, Cooks is having a down shooting year, to an extent. Still, he is the unquestioned leader of this team. Last time against FGCU, Cooks dropped 25 points, picked up 5 rebounds, and was a massive part of how they were able to come out on top.

Shyquan Gibbs (#11)

Gibbs is a solid veteran presence in NJIT’s backcourt. He is a 6’1″ / 150 pound senior guard who has started all 26 games this season for the Highlanders. Currently, he is averaging 9 points, 2 assists, and 3 rebounds per game. Gibbs is known to be a lethal shooter when he gets into a rhythm as he is shooting 42% from the floor and 36% from deep. Last time against the Eagles, Gibbs went 2/5 from beyond the arc on his way to 12 points.

Souleymane Diakite

Diakite is another Highlander that has vastly improved this season. After playing only 8 minutes a game as a freshman, the 6’9″ / 210 lb sophomore has started all 26 games this season, playing about 30 minutes per contest. He is currently averaging 8 points, 2 assists, and 8 rebounds per game. At this point he is not much of a shooter, but can do some things around the basket when called upon. Offensively, he was a non factor last time against FGCU but he was able to bring down 7 rebounds.

The Matchups

Guards

NJIT has a backcourt that is filled with quality and experience. Their typical starters feature 2 seniors in Shyquan Gibbs and Reilly Walsh as well as junior, Zach Cooks. Most of their offensive production stems from Cooks and Gibbs. These payers lack size but can derail an opposing team when they get into a rhythm. FGCU guards definitely have a size advantage, Caleb Catto has a great season and will be tough for NJIT to contain. Last time these teams played, Catto was really the only player to step up for the Eagles. He finished with 21 points on 5/6 from beyond the arc. Sam Gagliardi is always a threat to go off and Zach Scott has started coming into his own as of late. Jalen Warren has also improved his play during the conference season. Still, it will be difficult to contain Cooks and FGCU has a tendency to allow the opposing team’s best payer to take over.

Forwards

NJIT is one of the better sized teams in ASUN. Brinson and Diakite are 6’8″ and 6’9″, respectively, and their depth, while young, is just as big. Typically, FGCU has the size advantage in conference play. Justus Rainwater has established himself as a workhorse for FGCU down in the paint. Last time against the Highlanders, Rainwater added 10 points and 5 rebounds. He will again be tasked with fighting for rebounds against Diakite. Dakota Rivers and Brian Thomas have a chance to make noise off the bench as well.

Projected Starters

FGCUNJIT
Jalen Warren (#5) – GZach Cooks (#4) – G
Zach Scott (#1) – GShyquan Gibbs (#11) – G
Caleb Catto (#2) – GReilly Walsh (#14) – F
Tracy Hector (#13) – FSan Antonio Brinson (#2) – F
Justus Rainwater (#32) – FSouleymane Diakite (#21) – F

The Outlook

It’s to the point in the season where the Eagles are fighting for playoff seeding. With Kennesaw’s extremely poor records, it has been clear for some time that every other team is a guaratee to make the ASUN tournament. It has also been clear for a while that the top 3 seeds are reserved for Liberty, UNF, and Stetson. FGCU is still (just barely) in the running for the 4th seed but, after losing to Lipscomb, they are no longer in control of their own destiny. Still, winning out and finishing with an ASUN record of 8-8 is important for the Eagles if they don’t want to play one of the top teams in the conference in the first round of the tournament. Last time these teams played, it was a low scoring and very close game. FGCU lost it at home and must make up for it here on the road.

The Predictions

Elliott Kresse (22-6)

“No momentum for the Eagles right now. NJIT wins it by 6.” – Elliott

63-57 – NJIT

Russell Kelly (17-11)

“FGCU has not been able to capitalize on the benefits that a break can offer. After a week off, I have a feeling that FGCU comes out sloppy and it costs them in the end.” – Russell

60-50 – NJIT

Dawson Jordan (16-12)

“The Eagles lost a close game at home to NJIT earlier this year. This time they are on the road in a tougher environment.” – Dawson

68-62 – NJIT

Bryan Genter (17-11)

“After a loss to Lipscomb, FGCU needs this win but I’m afraid there isn’t much confidence that they can get it done.” – Bryan

64-58

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