Entering the contest in a 3-way tie for 5th place in the ASUN standings, FGCU (10-20, 7-8) took care of business against Jacksonville (13-17, 6-9) at home in Alico Arena. The game started out fast, with both teams trading blows for the first 5 minutes until JU managed to pull ahead by a few baskets. The next 5+ minutes saw FGCU hit a few shots and close the point differential. With 8:10 remaining in the first half, Zach Scott tied the game up at 22-22. Some more traded buckets took place until the opening stanza came to a close with both teams tied at 38-38.
The second half brought out a toughness and edge to both teams. After a foul-abundant first half, the officials decided to let the teams play through a lot of contact. FGCU thrived in this environment and retook a lead on a vicious Justus Rainwater dunk. The Eagles would never relinquish their lead and even stretched it to 9 points. Some iffy calls allowed JU to get back within 2 but, ultimately, Cyrus Largie and Malik Hardy were able to hit their free throws and put a ribbon on a solid win.
Below we will highlight the notable contributions, final takeaways, and take a look at what’s next for the Eagles.
Caleb Catto again led the Eagles in scoring with 15 points. He had a somewhat down night from beyond the arc (3-11) but hit shots when they mattered. Catto also contributed 4 rebounds and 2 steals. Jalen Warren had maybe to best game for FGCU. He finished with 13 points, 5 rebounds, and 7 assists to only 1 turnover. Warren excelled in taking the ball down the court and beating the consistent press that JU was throwing at the Eagles. Sam Gagliardi played a huge part in the team’s success. He went 4-8 from downtown and hit several key shots on the Eagles’ journey to victory. Gagliardi finished with 12 points, adding 2 rebounds and a steal while playing some good defense down the stretch. Malik Hardy provided a lot of toughness off the bench and that turned out to be exactly what FGCU needed. He finished with 8 points, 5 rebounds, and 1 steal. He also went 4-4 from the line, 2 of which put the finishing touches on the win. Brian Thomas also had a big impact off the bench. He provided the muscle to match up with JU’s David Bell and took advantage of their smaller lineups. Thomas finished with 5 points on 2-2 shooting as well as 4 rebounds and 3 blocks in just 16 minutes. Lastly, Justus Rainwater played another blue-collar type of game. He finished with only 2 points but added 3 rebounds, 4 steals, and 2 blocks.
FGCU managed a clean game, committing 11 team turnovers. This is more impressive considering the fact that JU pressed for most of the game and the Eagles have struggled beating the press in the past. Not only did FGCU limit their own mistakes to a degree, but they did so while forcing 16 turnovers out of the Dolphins.
This ended up being maybe the toughest performance by the Eagles this season. Toughness may not always show up in the stats but it sure did to the naked eye. while buckets were being traded for much of the first half. FGCU found the switch and turned it on. The intensity was unmatched as they tied the game and retook the lead. Even through some questionable late-game officiating, the Eagles still stood strong and were able to gut it out for the win due to scrappy defense and just being locked in. As far as stats go, the Eagles forced 16 turnovers, blocked 6 shots, and racked up 11 steals.
With one game left in the conference season, FGCU has a chance to go into the ASUN tournament as a 5th seed and riding a 3-game winning streak. But for that to happen, the Eagles must first do battle against UNA. The Lions sit at 7-8 in conference play and are tied with FGCU for that 5th spot. Just like the Eagles, they have won their last 2 games and are looking to go into the conference season on a hot streak. Finishing strong and winning the final home game of the season would be huge for this squad of Eagles that has already come a long way in the last few months.