In an instant classic, the FGCU men’s basketball team defeated Stetson in overtime, 80-78. This win marks the program’s second Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament Championship and will punch its ticket to return to the dance for the first time since its Sweet 16 run in 2013.
“It was a tremendous effort from our guys to keep battling throughout the game and we are happy to come out with a win,” FGCU Head coach Joe Dooley said. “Give tremendous credit to Stetson and Corey. The way he coached that team to make it all the way to the final is a tremendous credit to his program.”
The Eagles and the Hatters put on a show in front of an electric sellout crowd at Alico Arena and national audience at home. It was a hard-fought, back and forth game.
FGCU had four players contribute offensively, ending the night in double figures, its tourney clinching victory over Stetson.
Leading the all scorers for the Eagles was big man Antravious Simmons, who had a career night scoring a career high 21 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in FGCU’s overtime win.
Atlantic Sun Conference All-Tournament team member, Zach Johnson, played a major role in the narrow win over Stetson. He scored 19 points and dished out five assist. Johnson finished all three games in the conference tournament with 14 or more points.
Another member of the Atlantic Sun Conference All-Tournament team, Christian Terrell, scored 15 points, snatching five rebounds and tallying five assist on the night. Terrell ended all conference tournament games with at least 15 points and 3 rebounds.
Marc-Eddy Norelia, the Atlantic Sun Tournament MVP known as Mr. Double-Double, capped off an exciting night for FGCU with 16 points and 9 rebounds. He fell one rebound short of his 15th double-double. During the Eagles journey to the tourney, Norelia had two consecutive double-doubles before tonight.
In the first half, momentum shifted like a pendulum. Both teams made big runs and responded with the theory of “anything you can do I can do better.”
FGCU and Stetson traded buckets and traded leads, the game ending with a total of 8 lead changes. Whenever either team took a slight advantage, the team that went down came right back and responded. The score was tied 16 times through the contest.
In the opening 3 minutes of the contest, the Eagles started off on a tear, sparking a 10-0 run off of some great defense and electrifying offense putting with a dunk by Johnson. The crowd leapt to their feet the play forced Stetson to call a timeout.
After FGCU’s run, the Hatters decided to make a run of their own. This run led to the team eventually grabbing their first lead of the night, 16-14, with 11 minutes to go in the first.
With both teams shooting the ball well above 50 percent from the field and beginning to trade shots and leads, the Eagles ran into some trouble with about six minutes left in the half.
FGCU’s foul trouble began with Demetris Morant. He started the game strongly with six points, but was forced to sit when he picked up his third foul of the game. Quickly after Morant took a seat, Johnson joined him, picking up his second foul of the game. With 6:02 left to go in the half, the Eagles were trailing 26-23.
When there were two minutes to go in the half and FGCU was trailing by four points, 33-29, Julian Debose would leave the game and not return, sustaining a rolled left ankle injury.
Reggie Reid would go to the line and walk away with one of two free throws made and send the Eagles down five at the half 35-30.
Although Stetson’s victory in the game wouldn’t guarantee them a spot in the NCAA tournament, due to the team not meeting the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate standards, they still came to play. The Hatters shot 46.4 percent from the field and 50 percent from long range in the first half, also out-rebounding the Eagles 19-13.
Complementing a nice shooting performance by Stetson, the Eagles shoot 50 percent from the field. Although they didn’t knock down any shots from long-range on three attempts, the Eagles relied on their ability to score points in the paint, scoring 18 to help them only be down five with the second half to come.
FGCU’s foul trouble followed them into the last half of play, which was filled with tenseness and anxious nerves all around Alico Arena.
With 16 minutes left to play in the second half, Morant picked up his fourth foul of the game. This earned him a trip back to the Eagles bench.
After Norelia hit two free-throws, FGCU erased its first half deficit to tie the game at 41.
Stetson then managed to grab a two-point lead, just to have it cut by the Eagles as they continuously tied up the game.
With just a little under 11 minutes to go, Terrell would give FGCU its first lead since the first half 49-47. Stetson would quickly respond to the Eagles with seven unanswered points: a layup by Angel Rivera, two free-throws from Luke Doyle, and a dagger from long range by Derick Newton. This gave the Hatters a 54-49 advantage with 9:52 left to go.
Continuing to outrebounding FGCU, Stetson failed to capitalize on their advantage on the boards, allowing the Eagles to find ways to crawl back in the game by fouling players and allowing points in the paint.
With 3:53 left in the game, Terrell would cap off an 8-0 run for FGCU with two free throws giving the Eagles a 59-58 lead. FGCU’s run would grow to 10-0 run after Zach Johnson knocked down two free throws of his own to extend the Eagles lead to 63-58.
Stetson would hit two shots from long range on their next two possession to bring them within one 67-66 with 1:52 left to play. 20 seconds later, Newton would draw a foul and have a successful trip to the line, knocking down two free throws and giving the Hatters a 68-67 lead.
After a quick bucket by Simmons, FGCU would send Newton to the line once again with Stetson down 69-68. Newton would make only one free throw, tying the game at 69 with 25 seconds left for the Eagles to have a shot at winning the game.
Zach Johnson would control the ball with time winding down and he would drive to the basket, getting stuffed at the rim and being brought all the way down, where the ball would go off of Johnson’s leg. This gave Stetson a shot, with 6 seconds left. After a long review by the officials, the Hatters were granted possession, inbounding the ball to Divine Myles who would charge up the court but have his pocket picked by Johnson to send the game into overtime tied 69-69.
Stetson would win the tip to begin overtime at Alico Arena which somehow hadn’t collapsed due to the intensity of the crowd.
“The crowd was a huge favor. Without this crowd, we wouldn’t have had the energy to get through overtime and pull out the victory,” Norelia said.
The overtime period would consistent of much of the same from the closing five minutes of regulation. Both teams did the bulk of their work at the free-throw line.
The Eagles would begin to lose numbers later in the overtime period, with Norelia joining Morant, who also fouled out, fouling out with 3:02 left to play.
With 2:23 minutes left to go in the game, Simmons would score his 21st point of the game from the free-throw line to give FGCU a 75-74 lead.
After an empty trip by Stetson on the other end, Terrell would make a crucial play, spinning through the lane, getting the layup and drawing the foul to put the Eagles up 77-74 with 54 seconds left in overtime.
Johnson would follow in Terell footsteps after the quick Hatters’ bucket, spinning past a defender to get a layup in the lane, giving the Eagles a 79-76 lead with 16 seconds left.
Stetson would not shave much time off the clock, with a Myles’ layup bringing them within one. The Hatters would quickly foul Johnson with 10 seconds to go.
Johnson would miss his first free-throw and Stetson would use up its final time out to draw up a play, with a chance to send the game to overtime or get the win.
After Johnson made his second free-throw, the Hatters would inbound the ball to Myles, who drove past Johnson and had a look at the hoop before being sent packing with a block by Zach Johnson. This ended the game, crowning the Eagles as the A-Sun conference tournament champs and sending them dancing.
After scoring 18 points in the paint, the Eagles scored an additional 32 points, to end the night with 50 points in the paint. The Eagles also improved their shooting from the field to 52.6 percent and their work on the boards outrebounding the Hatters 40-35 after being outrebounded through most of the contest.
“We played like a team out there. We knew it would be tough, but it was always next man up for us and that team effort made us champions again,” Norelia said.
FGCU will now head to the NCAA tournament which will begin on March 15.
“For us to go two times in four years is a great accomplishment for our young program,” Dooley said.