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Men’s Basketball Wins Overtime Thriller Over Florida Memorial

Jessica Piland/FGCU Athletics

The FGCU men’s basketball team returned to Alico Arena after being on the road for the last few weeks. The Eagles were 1-2 in those games. They were set to play the 11-1 NAIA Florida Memorial University Lions on Dec. 22 before the holiday weekend. The game went into overtime but the Eagles came out on top in thrilling fashion with a 78-75 win to improve to 5-9.

The Eagles entered this game with a record of 4-9 following a double digit win on the road over Georgia Southern University. They looked to continue this momentum back home to try to win their second consecutive game.

It is important to note the injuries that have impacted FGCU’s roster throughout the season to this point. Redshirt junior center Andre Weir has been out with a labrum injury since their trip to the Virgin Islands concluded on Nov. 20 and he is out for the rest of the season.

Senior guard Chase Johnston has a lower body injury that will also keep him out for the rest of the season. Senior guard Isaiah Thompson has an upper body injury. There is an opportunity for Thompson to return later in the season. All of this has forced head coach Pat Chambers to shift multiple bench players into the starting lineup.

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Two Eagles that have rotated into the starting lineup, senior guard Cyrus Largie and freshman guard Rahmir Barno, combined to score 13 of FGCU’s first 15 points. This allowed the Eagles to stretch their lead to six points as they reached the final ten minutes of play in the first half.

Florida Memorial rallied back behind their dominance in the paint as they utilized second chance opportunities to keep the score close. The Lions restricted the Eagles’ production in the paint and forced them to rely on shots from outside.

The half continued with both teams trading shots back and forth as neither team seemed to have an edge. Junior forward Zach Anderson and graduate student and guard Franco Miller Jr. got involved in the action for FGCU, scoring a combined 12 points in the last 10 minutes of the first half.

FGCU ended the first half up six points, 35-29, as they looked to continue their momentum into the second half. The Eagles needed to get senior forward Keeshawn Kellman involved in the action. He has been the Eagles’ leading scorer in total points this season and was unable to attempt any shots in the half, in part because of the Lions’ defense.

As the second half began, FGCU shot 7/27 in field goals attempted and 4/16 from the 3-point line. This allowed Florida Memorial to keep close during the half.

One thing that benefited FGCU was the Lions’ press-heavy defense as they fouled the Eagles 22 times throughout the game. This aggressive defense allowed the Eagles to shoot 22 shots from the free throw line in the second half, of which they made 15 of them. This allowed Kellman to make the game-tying foul shot, which sent the game into overtime.

Throughout all this chaos, the Eagles had their fourth player now out for an injury at this point of the season. Junior guard Dallion Johnson went down with less than five minutes left in the second half, which diminished the Eagles’ roster once more with just a game left before conference play begins.

For the first time this season, FGCU was set to go into overtime. Florida Memorial put points on the scoreboard first, but both teams would go back and forth throughout the five minutes of play. The difference came when Kellman fouled out in the final three minutes.

Sophomore forward Blaise Vespe came off the bench to replace Kellman. Vespe had only played two games before this game. He had been thrown in the lineup with prior injuries and had yet to score any points this season. That quickly changed as the Eagles drove down the court with the score tied with just 12 seconds left.

Barno drove down the floor and as the defense collapsed on him, he kicked the ball out to Vespe, who was wide open. Vespe’s 3-point shot hit the middle of the iron before going through the net with 0.8 seconds left on the clock. This ended up being the game-winner for the Eagles in what were Vespe’s first points of the season. He shared how he felt after the game winning shot.

“I was very emotional. Still had to stay locked in though because the game wasn’t officially over. There was still 0.8 seconds on the clock. I’ve worked very hard in the gym so for my first basket to come like this is very special to me,” Vespe said. 

Barno led the Eagles in scoring, earning 17 points over 40 minutes. He discussed what it meant to have his best game to date after the game.

“It’s good. Definitely feels good. I feel way better about the win but I think I know I’m capable of that. Just another accomplishment but trying to continue to win and get better as a team,” Barno said.

FGCU’s game against Florida Memorial University marked the first of four consecutive home games for the Eagles after being off and on the road. Coach Chambers discussed what it means for this team to be back home.

“The schedules been really brutal. To play so many road games has been taxing on these young men, it had been taxing on the staff too. The staff has been sick as well. We are all just grinding and gutting it out the best that we can,” Chambers said. “It is going to be nice to be at home and in the comfort of our home area. I’m hoping the fans come for FAU but not just for FAU because they are a top 20 team. Come out for Jacksonville, come out for UNF, they are rivalry games. These kids are working their butts off.”

FGCU will play another home game on Saturday, Dec. 30. It will be the biggest game in the program’s history. This is the first time the men’s basketball team has ever played a top 10 opponent, No. 7 FAU, at home. FAU earned their highest ranking in program history heading into this game and reached the Final Four last season. The Eagles, on the other hand, will be looking to play spoiler.

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Jeffrey Hrunka
Jeffrey Hrunka, Eagle News Assistant Sports Editor
Jeffrey Hrunka is a junior double majoring in communications and journalism with a concentration in public relations. Jeffrey is from Fort Myers where his interest in sports journalism originated after falling in love with the world of motorsports. When he’s not working for Eagle News, he is usually spending time with friends, watching the New York Giants lose, or chilling in the pool.

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