There is a long running joke between the guys at Screecher Report that games against FIU and FAU are cursed in some way and never as they should be. After a big win over Miami, Florida International seemed like an opponent that FGCU could take care of. The “curse” seemed to live on though as the Eagles delivered a subpar performance versus their east coast rivals. Below, we will take a look at my 5 Eagles Things from the game.
After cleaning it up against a talented Miami squad, the turnover problem returned in a big way against the Golden Panthers. The Eagles committed 20 turnovers and forced only 13 out of their opponent. FGCU has turned the ball over 20 or more times in 3 of their 5 games this year. Several players had 3 or more turnovers. A large sum of the turnovers seem to come from offensive fouls on calls that don’t go in favor of the Eagles. Still, this has been a consistent enough problem where something must be corrected.
Leading into the game and researching FIU’s team, it was easy to assume an advantage for the Eagles, who possess much more height. In a way, they did hold the advantage. FGCU won the rebounding battle 42-35 and scored more points in the paint than their opponent. At the same time, FIU’s smaller, compact bigs limited the effectiveness of a guy like Justus Rainwater, who struggled to keep up with the quickness of their players on defense. At times, FGCU tried Cyrus Largie at the 4 or played Eli Abaev at the 5 with Dakota Rivers or Zach Anderson at the 4 spot. Abaev proved to be the best rebounder on the floor but, outside of that, this matchup swung in favor of the Panthers. If FGCU played small, FIU out rebounded them. If they played them big, FIU was able to use their speed to get around slower or inexperienced FGCU bigs.
Going hand in hand with the size mismatch is the overall defensive output. FGCU was shredded on virtually all levels of defense, rendering any sort of comeback perpetually out of reach. FIU started out with a 3 point barrage that continued into the 2nd half. They shot 42% from 3 and 48% overall. When they weren’t shooting 3s, the Panthers were carving up the Eagles’ interior defense, getting around much taller players for seemingly uncontested shots. FIU played significantly faster and pulled away in the the first half. FGCU played much better in the 2nd half but couldn’t buy any defensive stops. When the Eagles hit a 3, FIU countered with something of their own. When FGCU hit a tough layup for 2, the Panthers would hit a 3. The lack of defensive stops really prevented them from gaining any of the ground that they had lost.
After coming alive from beyond the arc against Miami, the Eagles had another slow night from deep against FIU. FGCU shot 6/24 (25%) from downtown on the night, marking the 4th time in their 5 games that they have shot under 29% from 3-point range. Caleb Catto and Dakota Rivers were able to sink their perimeter shots at a nice rate but, outside of them, it was another performance to forget.
Caleb Catto and Cyrus Largie continued their strong play. They have now scored in double figures in each of the last 3 and 4 games, respectively. Catto led the team with 22 points and added 5 rebounds. Largie was one rebound shy of his 2nd double-double of the season (and career), finishing with 12 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists. Freshman Luis Rolón finished with 8 points, 6 assists, and 2 steals.
This is a crucial point early in the season where FGCU must decide which team they want to be and play accordingly. The Eagles are only 5 games in but there are only 2 non-conference opponents left and conference play is right around the corner. As stated, FGCU has turned the ball over at least 20 times in 3 of their 5 games this year and 15 or less in their other 2 games. Additionally, the Eagles have shot very poorly in 4 of their 5 games and very well in the other. There are many questions going forward at this point. Are they the team that commits 20+ turnovers and shoots around 25% from beyond the arc? Or are they the team that limits turnovers to 13 and shoots it at a high level? One thing that is certain is that this team will go as far as the experienced players can take them. Luis Rolón has been extremely impressive as a freshman, but it is up to senior, Jalen Warren to lift this team. Senior, Eli Abaev has proven how tough he is as a rebounder but has to prove he can be more consistent as an offensive threat and reduce his turnover numbers. Another senior, Justus Rainwater, has to make the type of dominant impact that forces the opposition to change what they are doing, rather than force FGCU to alter what they want to do. This team will go as far as Caleb Catto and the other upper classmen can take them.
FGCU has a quick turnaround against NAIA school, Webber International University on Friday, 12/18 at Alico Arena. The Eagles should look to use this opportunity to work through any on-court issues and take the opponent seriously in doing so.