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FGCU men’s basketball wins first outright ASUN regular season title

(EN Photos / Brad Young)

Coming into its regular-season finale against Stetson with a share of the ASUN regular season title, the FGCU men’s basketball team claimed its first outright regular-season crown in program history with a 80-70 victory over the Hatters.
“This is not something easy,” Zach Johnson said. “You’ve got to come in and work every day. And to accomplish that, especially with this being the first time the school accomplished that, is an amazing feeling, and I’m just happy to be a part of it.”
Making their final 10 free throws in the last minute to secure their victory, the Eagles claimed the number one seed in the ASUN tournament before the final buzzer thanks to UNF’s victory Jacksonville and will now host eighth-seeded Stetson on Monday, Feb. 27 in the ASUN tournament quarterfinals.
Knocking down a career-high six shots from long range, Johnson led the way on offense for the Eagles, scoring 24 points on 8-15 shooting from the field and 6-11 shooting from behind the arc.
“Before the game I told him (Johnson) just attack and be yourself,” Brandon Goodwin said. “I know he had been hard on himself the last couple of games, and I think this is the perfect time for him to get going. He hit six threes, and I just told him keep shooting.”
Joining Johnson in double figures, Brandon Goodwin scored 18 points and grabbed eight boards while Rayjon Tucker finished with 12 points going a perfect 6-6 from the charity stripe.
Before the game, FGCU honored its two seniors Demetris Morant and Marc-Eddy Norelia in front of the 4,700 fans at Alico Arena, the second largest crowd in program history (4,702 vs. mercer in 2014 ASUN Championship final.)
In a dismal opening ten-minute first half where the Eagles shot 15 percent from the field at the 11 minute mark, Reggie Reid and Raysean Scott Jr. provided a strong spark off the bench to help FGCU come back from a 17-5 deficit.
“We never felt like we got in sync,” FGCU head coach Joe Dooley said. “I thought they did a good job in the zone of doing that but I also thought that we held the ball a little bit too much. We gotta [sic] get that solved quickly for Monday.”
With an 11-2 run in tact, Johnson knocked down a shot from behind the arc to tie the game up at 19 with 6:12 left to play in the first. With the final six minutes seeing both teams trade buckets and trade leads, Johnson responded to B.J. Glasford’s triple with his second three of the night to tie the game once again at 26.
Fueled by a 9-1 advantage on the offensive glass and 15-0 advantage in second chance points, FGCU went into the half up 31-30.
Playing just two minutes in the first half, Brian Pegg propelled Stetson to a 36-33 lead two minutes into the second half. With the game of runs continuing in the second half, the Hatters sparked a 10-2 run fueled by Pegg’s 10 second half points to grab a 58-57 lead over FGCU with 6:45 left to play.
Coming out of the timeout at the 6:45 mark, Goodwin hit a three to push the Eagles back up by two. Following Goodwin’s three, FGCU wouldn’t surrender its lead for the rest of the contest.
Thanks to Johnson’s fifth and sixth triple of the night, and a floater of the glass from Christian Terrell, the Eagles made it a two-possession game before Zach Johnson exploded off the baseline for an emphatic tomahawk slam to give the Eagles a seven-point, 70-63 lead.
Down by seven, the Hatters would send the Eagles to the line every time they got the ball, but Johnson, Rayjon Tucker and Goodwin would make all the free throws they stepped up to take to give FGCU the regular-season crown.
With the quest for the big dance in full effect, FGCU will look to get past Stetson on Monday and advance to the ASUN tournament semifinal to face the winner of USC Upstate vs Kennesaw State on Thursday, March 2.
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