In the opening round of the ASUN tournament, FGCU (6th seed) upset Lipscomb (3rd seed) in a dominant 72-60 victory. Below Russell gives his 5 Eagles Things to sum up the action.
1. Weight Lifted
A lot was at stake for fans, players, and coaches in this game. For starters, this is head coach Michael Fly’s 3rd season at the helm for FGCU and each of the last 2 season were surrounded by inconsistency and limited success, culminating in first-round tournament exits. Beyond that, Lipscomb has been a big part of the Eagles’ recent tournament struggles. For the last 6 seasons, the Bisons and the Eagles have split their regular season meetings. More recently though, Lipscomb knocked FGCU out in the 17-18 ASUN championship game. Last season (19-20), the Bisons sent the Eagles packing in the opening round.
With all of that, plus the circumstances surrounding Covid that have impacted the season, getting this win was huge for coach Fly and the team. The way they did it makes it even sweeter. The game started with the teams trading blows. Then things got away from the Eagles as Lipscomb built a 17 point lead (27-10). At that point, something clicked for FGCU. Maybe it was a coaching point hitting home. Maybe it was a big shot that sparked the rest of the team. Whatever it was, the Eagles went on a 21 to 8 run to take a 4-point deficit into half-time (35-31). FGCU continued to dominate in the second half, retaking the lead and extending it to 23 points (70-47) with 4 minutes left. At this point, the Eagles coasted the rest of the way to an inspiring victory.
2. Rolón Return
A big catalyst for this win was the surprising return of star freshman point guard, Luis Rolón. Rolón had missed nearly all of conference play due to a leg injury and a timetable for a return was never given. The smart, savvy point guard started the game and looked noticeably rusty in the opening minutes. He soon settled in on his way to a career-high 9 assists, to go along with 6 rebounds, and 2 steals compared to just 2 turnovers. Rolon’s return made the way for 4 double-digit scorers and a much more efficient offense.
3. Other Notable Performances
In addition to Rolón, there were a few other standouts in this game. First and foremost, Cyrus Largie had a game-high 19 points to go along with 5 rebounds, 1 assist, and 2 steals. Largie now leads the team with about 14 points per game and has transitioned into a primary scoring option. Caleb Catto and Jalen Warren each added 13 points as well. Catto’s steady presence guided them through the early-game scoring slump and he found ways to be effective, despite going just 1/5 from downtown. With Rolon’s return, Warren was able slide back into the off-ball, slashing role that he has flourished in this season. His energy played a huge part in fueling the Eagles comeback and also stretching their lead. Eli Abaev overcame early turnovers to have a really strong game. He finished with 11 points while hauling in 7 rebounds, dishing out 2 assists, and swatting 2 shots. Eli’s defense on Asadullah was a big part in preventing a comeback attempt from Lipscomb. Lastly, freshman Zach Anderson has proven to be one of the most polished freshman defenders to come through the program, right up there with Zach Johnson. Anderson can guard any position on the floor and does not shy away from a challenge. The 6’7″ forward finished the night with 6 points and 6 rebounds.
Defense is a huge part of any comeback and that was definitely the case in this one. After the loss to Lipscomb in the ASUN Quarterfinal last year, in which Asadullah manhandled the Eagles on the way to 40 points, FGCU has found way to minimize his impact. Lipscomb’s star player finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds. This would be a fantastic performance for most bigs, but not for a guy like Asadullah who has had his way with the Eagles in the past. Additionally, he was forced into committing 6 turnovers and shooting under 50%. As a team, FGCU forced the Bisons into 18 turnovers and held them to just 38% shooting from the floor and just 23% from beyond the arc. Overall, the defense played in this game allowed the Eagles to win the turnover battle and also score more points in the paint, leading to the lopsided victory.
Through 2 Covid shutdowns, this team continues to bounce back. Part of the reason this season has been so frustrating is because of the promise that the team has shown. A solid non-conference season with a win over Miami was followed by a shutdown that had clear, lasting effects on the players. This played a part in being swept by Bellarmine, and splitting series with Stetson and Lipscomb. The Eagles looked to be back on track in sweeping UNA but were then faced with their 2nd shut down. They returned in time to play Kennesaw State but a couple of injuries in the backcourt, in combination with the lingering effects of the shutdown, saw them lose in an uninspiring performance. Despite these circumstances, this team has, again, found a way to get back to playing good basketball and proved that they have unfinished business with this win over Lipscomb.
In a quick turnaround, FGCU will play UNA tonight (3/5) at 7PM. The Eagles swept them in the regular season and will look to stretch that season sweep to 3 games in this semi-final round clash.