In our Preview, we stated that the Eagles had a shot to win their game against Miami if they could reduce their turnovers, work through their shooting woes, and find a way to handle their size disadvantage. Admittedly, this seemed like too much to ask for, considering the Eagles’ struggles in these areas. The national media seemed to think that FGCU had little chance in this game as well. Miami was favored by almost 20 points, but the Eagles played their own brand of basketball. In what is clearly the biggest victory in Michael Fly’s head coaching career, FGCU upset the Hurricanes 66-62, giving the many doubters something to think about. Below I will list my 5 Eagles Things from the game.
A huge proponent to this big upset win for FGCU was the gameplan. It’s no secret that the Eagles have lacked the same size that other bigger D-I schools always seem to possess. This was evident in the game against USF earlier this year. Another example of the Eagles having to deal with mismatches in the paint is against Lipscomb and Ahsan Asadullah. In the past, Coach Fly and FGCU have dealt with this by being self aware enough to acknowledge the mismatch and work around it. Essentially they take the fact that 3-pointers are worth more than 2-pointers, and really emphasize the perimeter game, knowing that points in the paint will be hard to come by. In the past, the opposing bigs either scored enough to overcome this or the Eagles weren’t hitting their shots. This game, however, saw FGCU executing the gameplan extremely well and controlling most of the game.
Going hand-in-hand with the game plan was perimeter shooting. Through the offseason, FGCU added plenty of shooters and offensive playmakers. Prior to this game, the Eagles were severely struggling with the 3-ball though. In their first 3 games, FGCU shot 29%, 23%, and 24%, respectively, from beyond the arc. Against Miami, the Eagles found their shot, hitting 13 threes in the game (a record against a Power 5 opponent). In doing so, they shot 43% from deep and and really overwhelmed the Hurricanes, who made only 3 in the entire game.
Dakota Rivers and Other Notable Performances
The main standout performance from this game came from sophomore Dakota Rivers. He elevated the team with his offensive production, specifically from beyond the arc. It has been said that Rivers is a solid outside shooter, especially for his size. He has flashed the ability to shoot 3s in the past but this game proved he can take over a game from downtown. Rivers shot 5/11 from three and finished with 15 points. He also added 2 blocks, already placing him among the best shot blockers in FGCU history. This is huge for the development of this young player. If the opponent must respect his outside shooting, it opens up more options for him and his teammates. Another big performance for the Eagles came from Caleb Catto. He finished with 18 points on 7/12 shooting (58%). Cyrus Largie made the best of his 1st start of the season, finishing with 12 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and a block. Eli Abaev provided a boost on the boards and flirted with another double-double. He ended the night with 11 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 assists. Lastly, freshman Luis Rolon continued to impress in the first start of his career. He scored just 5 points but dished out 8 assists and collected 3 steals.
A long-time issue for this team has been the turnover problem. Over their first 3 games of the season, the Eagles averaged 20 turnovers per game. This, in combination with poor shooting, has prevented FGCU from being competitive in many games dating back to the past couple of seasons. Against the Hurricanes, the Eagles drastically decreased their turnovers to 13 while forcing Miami into committing 15 of them. Keeping turnovers down will dramatically help the Eagles this season and going forward.
Freshman Luis Rolon made the first start of his career in this game. The flashy passer dropped dimes and finished with 8 assists and a 2:1 assist:turnover ratio. As a team, the Eagles dished out 15 total assists compared to only 8 from Miami. Ball movement has been significantly better his year and Rolon is a huge part of that.
There is really no telling what this FGCU team can do if they continue to play a cleaner brand of basketball and hit their perimeter shots. Some might point out their shortcomings in the paint from this game. However, when a team struggles from 3, the opponent works hard to squash their paint production. If FGCU can continue to command respect from their opponent on the perimeter, their points in the paint will also increase. With this big win over Miami, the Eagles should be riding high on confidence. The upset is just another reason to be excited for what looks like it could be a very competitive season.
Next up, FGCU will host FIU at Alico Arena on Wednesday 12/16. Despite a tough game when these teams faced last season, this should be a very competitive matchup. Stay tuned for our full game preview!