Eagles lose in finale of Gulf Coast Showcase
The Florida Gulf Coast University men’s basketball team continued its winning ways over Thanksgiving break with a second-place finish at the Gulf Coast Showcase and a big non-conference win at South Dakota State University.
“We’re excited,” coach Joe Dooley said. “I think it’s a great field. We’ve got great coaches, some historic programs… We’re excited about being here.”
In game one of the showcase, the Eagles beat Marist to become the first Atlantic Sun school to start a season 4-0 since UCF accomplished the feat in 2004-05. Julian DeBose had a coming out party in his first game as an Eagle, registering 15 points and five rebounds in FGCU’s 58-43 victory.
“I have so much respect for coach Dooley and this basketball program,” Marist coach Mike Maker said. “I thought it was a big-time challenge for us to come in here.”
Marc-Eddy Norelia, Brett Comer and Bernard Thompson each added 11 points as FGCU rode a strong second half to a solid victory, even without senior guard Jamail Jones.
Jones, a guy who many see as the glue that holds the Eagles together, was handed a three-game suspension for a violation of team rules.
In game two of the tournament, FGCU faced off against a San Francisco team that also went to the NIT last season. The Dons presented a very different challenge than Marist, but the Eagles met the challenge and rolled to a convincing 15-point victory.
Thompson had a breakout performance, leading the way for FGCU with 20 points and adding five rebounds. Norelia and Nate Hicks were the only other players to notch double figures for the Eagles, as the scoring was spread evenly throughout the roster.
Hicks also had three blocks and his agility and energy was encouraging for someone coming off an offseason ACL surgery.
The 62-47 victory was the Eagles’ most complete team performance of the year, but the momentum came to screeching halt against Green Bay in the championship game.
In the showcase final, FGCU struggled from the tip, ending up in a 15-0 hole before Brian Greene Jr. finally hit a free throw to put the Eagles on the board. FGCU fought back well in the first half, cutting the deficit to just six points at halftime, but that effort wasn’t enough to catch the Phoenix.
The Eagles struggled all game against the zone and were never able to establish any rhythm on the offensive end. Despite 16 turnovers by Green Bay, FGCU was never able to capitalize and had too many empty possessions to overcome.
FGCU got beat up inside and struggled to get into the lane and convert easy baskets into points. It could have been the fatigue of playing its third game in three days, but the Eagles just didn’t come with the same intensity that they showed in their first five contests.
The Eagles battled for most of the game, but in the end Green Bay prevailed, hanging on for a 59-45 victory and the tournament title.
After the Gulf Coast Showcase concluded, the Eagles had a few days to rest up and get some practice in before heading to Sioux Falls to play SDSU on Sunday.
The recovery time seemed to pay great dividends, as FGCU was much more efficient on both ends of the floor. After combining for just two points in the first half, Comer and Thompson combined for 24 points in the final 20 minutes as FGCU outscored the Jackrabbits 40-27 in the second half.
FGCU has lived up to the high expectations it had coming into the season, posting its best November record in program history at 6-1. The chemistry and continuity will continue to grow on offense and defense as more time passes, and the team gets used to the system and playing together.
“The big thing is that we haven’t had the continuity at practice,” Dooley said. “We’ve had guys out every day and we haven’t had everybody in there yet, so I think once we get everybody together, we’ll see how good we can be.”
The Eagles face off against Florida Tech at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Alico Arena.