Eagle men take down Lipscomb and Northern Kentucky at home
The Florida Gulf Coast University men’s basketball team extended its win streak to five games over the weekend, notching conference wins over Lipscomb and Northern Kentucky.
It was a weekend full of emotions for the Eagles, as Thursday was the fifth anniversary of the death of Brett Comer’s father, Troy. Comer showed incredible heart and determination, playing a key role in the Eagles pulling away down the stretch.
FGCU never trailed against the Bisons, and despite the 78-62 final score, Lipscomb trailed by just six points with just over seven and a half minutes left in the game. In under a minute, Comer had two key assists, a steal and a three-point play to stretch FGCU’s lead to 14 points.
Comer was very emotional on the bench and in the post-game press conference, speaking about how much FGCU basketball means to him.
“I’m just happy to have all these great people around me,” he said. “My mom, my coach, my teammates, they do really mean a lot to me. They’re all my family.”
In addition to Comer’s gutsy performance, the Eagles got 18 points from Jamail Jones, 16 from Bernard Thompson and 14 from Julian DeBose. The balanced offensive attack helped to spread out the Lipscomb defense and create open shots for the Eagles.
DeBose has steadily been becoming more comfortable in the system, and along with Jones, seems to be the key contributor to the Eagles’ recent success.
“It was a big game,” DeBose said. “We knew that we were tied for second coming into the game, and we just wanted to come out and let the conference know that we’re coming up.”
On Saturday, it was an emotional night again at Alico Arena, but it was a much more positive energy that filled the air. FGCU honored the Wounded Warriors amputee softball team before the game, a collection of incredible men who have made unspeakable sacrifices to defend our country. The moment was special for all in attendance and helped put into perspective the game that was about to be played.
“I said that I wish we did this, I wish we had this special of a moment,” Northern Kentucky coach Dave Bezold said of the pregame ceremonies. “Because all of us are connected. And that’s America, you’re blue and green, we’re black and gold, but we’re all red, white and blue. That’s the bottom line.”
On the court, FGCU again got off to a quick start, spurred by Comer and Thompson’s 22 combined first-half points. Thompson hit a miraculous half-court shot as the buzzer sounded to give the Eagles a 13 point lead going into halftime.
FGCU struggled in the second half, going just 6-24 from the field in the final 20 minutes, but still hung on for the 74-64 victory. Coach Joe Dooley summed up the way that the game went down the stretch, telling reporters “We made plays when we had to.”
“I think in league play, they’re not always pretty,” he said. “But you’ll take them and move on down the road.”
FGCU’s defense is still improving, but the Eagles have been doing a much better job of getting out in transition and moving the ball around on offense. Saturday was the second consecutive game in which at least four FGCU players scored in double figures.
Despite the sluggish second half, it is encouraging to see FGCU beginning to open games with the energy and passion that the Eagles historically lacked. The quick starts show the growth and maturation that this team has achieved Because if FGCU had started this game against NKU slowly, the Eagles wouldn’t have been able to hold on for the win.
Starting quickly and playing hard from the opening tip is something that has eluded the Eagles for far too long, and it appears that Dooley finally has the squad turning a corner. The second-year coach has always preached mental toughness and discipline, two things that have helped the Eagles grow together as a team.
Alico Arena’s sold-out crowd of 4,550 fans was electric Saturday night, and Bezold wasn’t shy about giving praise to FGCU and the Dirty Birds.
“If you don’t want to be in this environment, you belong at the YMCA,” Bezold said of playing at Alico Arena. “This is unbelievable, this is what you want to play in. You want to play either at home or on the road in this type of environment.
“[FGCU has] a great thing right now in college basketball,” he continued. “A great home-court advantage, a great crowd and that’s what we’ve got to grow up to be.”
North Florida’s loss to USC Upstate on Saturday moves FGCU into a first-place tie in the Atlantic Sun. The Eagles go on the road this week to face Stetson at 3:30 p.m. Saturday
“[Stetson] had a good weekend.” Dooley said. “They’ve got young guys that I think are starting to figure some things out … They’ve got some weapons, and I think this time of year as the young guys figure it out, they get more dangerous.”