The Eagles flocked north just a couple hours to Tampa to face the USF Bulls on Wednesday, 12/2. Unfortunately, they returned to Fort Myers following a 76-57 loss. To Recap the game, I will be debuting a new series called Russell’s 5 Eagles Things, inspired by a personal favorite beat writer of mine. Lets get started.
From the jump (literally) it looked that FGCU would have their hands full dealing with the shear size of the opponent. Even on paper, the Bulls trotted out two 7-footers and a couple of sizeable 6’8″ players as well. The Eagles featured a combination of 4 bigs, 3 of which are 6’8″ and 1 of which is 6’7″. FGCU’s bigs actually did a decent job on the boards, considering the size discrepancy. Eli Abaev led both teams with 10 rebounds. Still the Eagles lost the battle 45 to 37 and were outworked in the paint on both ends. It wasn’t so much the initial defense that was bad, but more so the situations where FGCU could have ended their possession but, due to their size, USF was able to extend the possession or get second chance points.
FGCU has long preferred the long/lean and athletic big at the expense of size, for the sake of size. But in games like this, it makes you wish there was a 6’10” or taller / 230+ player on the bench who could give the team some minutes.
2. Shooting Woes
Probably the biggest difference in this game was the trouble FGCU had in getting the ball in the hoop. Only 2 players (Jalen Warren and Cyrus Largie) out of the 12 who got minutes, shot better than 50% (60 and 56, respectively). From 3, only Largie and Franco Miller shot better than 40% (50 and 43, respectively). As a team, the Eagles shot just 36% from the floor and 23% from deep. Compare that to USF, who shot 49% and 39% from downtown.
In a game where you’re outmatched in the paint, there is really no hope of winning if shots don’t start to fall. Outside of Miller and Largie, the Eagles couldn’t find any rhythm from the perimeter.
3. Caleb Catto
There isn’t much concern about Captain Catto as he has proven himself consistently over his 2 years with the team. He makes the list of “Things” simply because of how quiet of a game he had, compared to almost every game since his freshman season. In 27 minutes, Catto scored 3 points, dished out 4 assists, and nabbed 3 rebounds. The assists and rebounds are solid but the 3 points is uncharacteristically low. The junior shot 1/7 from the floor and 1/4 from deep. In a more typical game for him, he hits on another 3 and at least a couple of layups, giving him 10 points, plus any points picked up at the foul line. Again, Catto’s performance isn’t a concern, but rather an example of just how important his personal success is to the overall success of the team.
While the first 3 Things from this game were on the negative side, it truly wasn’t all bad. In fact, one positive that carried over from the first game is just how much more efficient and fast the team looks. This team possesses a slew of guard who like to push the ball down the court quickly and try to make plays. Jalen Warren played a good game and finished with 15 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals. With other quick guards on the floor like Cyrus Large, Franco Miller, and Dom London, Warren is playing a lot faster and, in time, his assist numbers should go up too. Another big reason why the Eagles have been able to run the floor well through 2 games is the presence of freshman Luis Rolón. While he mustered just 2 assists in this one, that is largely a product of a bad shooting night for the team. As a whole, guys were making the extra pass and finding their teammates for a considerable amount of open shots. You have to think that if this continues and the shooting performance simply returns to normal, good things are in store offensively for this team.
Early in the game and for much of the first half, it looked like FGCU was in for another turnover filled game. By game’s end, they finished with 15 total turnovers which isn’t so bad. While plenty of those turnovers were warranted, a good bunch of them were based on questionable calls. Officiating is not something I typically like to mention when talking about games. While I believe FGCU lost for reasons besides inconsistent officiating, I still think it played at least a small role. For parts of the game, it felt like FGCU players were regularly being called for fouls when a USF player drove to the basket and there was any semblance of contact. On the other hand, it felt like when Catto, Largie, or another Eagle drove to the basket, they were met with contact and no whistle was blown. At the end of the day, both teams had similar called fouls so it was fair for the most part.
With the exception of extreme examples like a big Power 5 upset or losing to a non D-I team, the significance of the outcome of any 1 game should not be overrated. To put it simply, it looked like the Eagles had an off night. That, in combination with being somewhat physically outmatched from a size standpoint, really prevented FGCU from narrowing the deficit at any point in the game. I expect the team to be competitive throughout the season. If you felt that way after winning the first game, a loss to USF shouldn’t be enough to change your opinion, in my book.
Up next, the Eagles prepare to rebound against Florida National at home on Saturday 12/5 at 7:00 PM. Facing an NAIA opponent is typically a great way to work out any struggles you have had against fellow D-I schools. I expect the Eagles to put up a TON of shots and really try to work their way through the shooting funk they have found themselves in after 2 straight fairly low scoring games.
Stay tuned for a more detailed preview of the upcoming games for the FGCU Men’s and Women’s teams.