FGCU (5-2) put a shiny bow on 2020 by wrapping up the season with a big-time win over Georgia Southern (6-3). The flow of the game was a mixed bag (or stocking) in many ways. There were several runs for both squads, moments where neither team could buy a bucket, and times when each team couldn’t miss. Through it all, the Eagles of Fort Myers stuck it out for an impressive 73-60 win. Below are my 5 Eagles Things from the game.
1. Statement Win
It’s easy to look at the schedule and see the upset over Miami as being the “biggest” win so far this season. On the whole, that is true. Looking back on this season, Miami will be the game that is more talked about, simply due to their Power 5 status. Despite all of that, within the confines of the season, this win over Georgia Southern was a bigger statement. FGCU has now shown that they can play a cleaner brand of basketball and compete in a variety of ways on a given night. After Miami, the Eagles had a chance to legitimize the upset, to an extent, in a game against FIU. Unfortunately, they played very poorly that night in a bad loss. But in this final non-conference game against Georgia Southern (a team that beat FIU), the Eagles re-legitimized themselves (and their season) as a team that can compete and be a problem for their opponents this year.
The depth that FGCU possesses this year has turned out to be an extremely valuable asset for them as a team. With the exception of a true point guard, modern day basketball is moving away from the 1-5 positional model and more toward general terms like wings and forwards. A player’s position (1-5) is much more based on who they can guard on defense, rather than how they play offensively. FGCU has embraced this and has showcased that they have the ability to play big or small without missing a beat to better suit in-game matchups. Against Georgia Southern, Coach Fly made it a point to play small. The starting lineup featured Eli Abaev at the 5, Cyrus Largie at the 4, and Caleb Catto in the backcourt along with 2 point guards in Luis Rolón and Jalen Warren. This lineup has proven to be very effective in beating the press, being quick on defense, and staying competitive on the glass. Largie’s versatility and Abaev’s rebounding abilities are a big part of what makes this work.
On defense, FGCU opened the game a little slow in their rotations but quickly tightened up. The zone defense was some of the best they have played all season. Coach Fly stated that the plan was to execute the zone, spread Georgia Southern out on offense, and pack the paint, forcing outside shots. This strategy seemingly worked as GA Southern shot a respectable 43% from the floor but a paltry 18% on 6/33 from beyond the arc.
Over the course of the opening 10 minutes of the game (I’m estimating here), the Eagles looked like they were in for another turnover-filled performance with 7 early ones. Over the next 15 (or so) minutes of in-game action, they committed just 2 of them. For the game, the Eagles turned the ball over just 14 times. FGCU has now had 14 or less turnovers in 3 out of their last 4 games, which is a very positive sign for this team’s future.
4. Catto and Largie Shine
After an easy going 8 point performance versus an NAIA team, Catto led the Eagles with 19 points versus Georgia Southern. The Captain also added 5 rebounds and 2 assists. He also played a clean and efficient game, finishing with 0 turnovers and shooting 7/13 from the floor (54%) and 5/10 (50%) from downtown. Catto’s continued ascension has been fun to watch and is a huge factor in how far this squad can go.
Largie has looked better and better with each passing game. Against GA Southern, he put up a career high 16 points on 7/12 shooting (58%) and added 8 rebounds and 2 assists. This performance marks Largie’s 6th straight game scoring in double figures. In fact, the only game he failed to do so was the first game of the season versus FAMU. Largie is already one of the best stories in college basketball and he is proving to be so much more than that for the Eagles. His toughness, versatility, and skill seem to grow before your eyes without any regression. Largie is bound for a couple of 20-point games come conference play.
5. Abaev’s Best Performance
Abaev had one of his best nights as an Eagle against GA Southern. So far, his FGCU career has been somewhat up and down as he looks to find consistency. What has stayed true for him since joining the squad is his elite rebounding ability. Through any offensive struggles Abaev has still been able to positively impact the game. Even when offense has been there for him, turnovers have been an issue. Against GA Southern, Abaev played a fairly clean game, all around. Beyond his 10 points and 6 rebounds, he added 2 blocks, 1 assist, and a steal while committing just 2 turnovers. Abaev was a consistent presence in the paint for 30 minutes as FGCU outscored their opponent 34-20 in that category. Additionally, despite playing small, the Eagles stayed competitive on the boards, losing the rebounding battle by just 1 (40-39).
As stated, this win carries a lot of stock for fans especially. There are many skeptical fans out there who really only make their voices heard after a loss. Stacking wins against solid D-I teams gives less and less ammunition to those who doubt how far this team can go. There are still concerns about turnovers. The stigma wasn’t created after 1 game, so it won’t go away after only a couple of clean games either. People will point out the bad losses to FIU and USF. To that, I ask that we take a step back and think about how the non-conference slate has gone. What if someone told you before the season that “FGCU will have 7 non-con games this year and they will go 5-2 with a wins over Miami, GA Southern, and FAMU, and losses to USF and FIU”? I, personally, would have taken that in a heartbeat. Regardless of how you project this team to finish out the season, the arrow is definitely pointed up and that is something to be excited about. Happy Holidays to all the FGCU family and thank you for supporting Screecher Report!
FGCU has 10 days between GA Southern and the start of ASUN play. To open up conference action, the Eagles will host back to back games against North Alabama at Alico Arena on 1/1 and 1/2. Stay tuned for non-con recaps for FGCU Men’s and Women’s teams, as well as Game previews for both squads for the start of ASUN competition.