Brandon Goodwin nearly had a triple-double, and FGCU wore down NJIT in the second half to eventually pull away for a 68-54 win at Alico Arena on Saturday, and move to 3-0 in Atlantic Sun play.
Goodwin nearly had the first triple-double in program history, with 21 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists. Goodwin had 14 of his 21 points in the first half, while Zach Johnson added 19 points.
“Both of them did great things,” Eagles coach Joe Dooley said. “But we were good not great. I thought it was sort of a grind it out game, those are some of the ones you have to win. It wasn’t an asthetically pretty game, with long offensive and defensive possessions, but we held our ground.”
Though NJIT never got within five after the midpoint of the first half, it always seemed like whenever FGCU(12-8, 3-0 ASUN) got some separation, the Highlanders were able to respond to keep it interesting. After a three from Johnson made it a 16-point lead at 59-43, Zach Cooks hit a three from the corner for NJIT, then another moments later after an FGCU turnover, cutting it to 62-51 with 4:00 to go.
“We did a good job of killing our own runs,” Dooley said. We had a couple where we really could’ve extended a little more, but we did some things we didn’t need to do, gave up some possessions. We can’t kill our own runs like we did a couple times.”
But the Highlanders(8-10, 1-2), who shot a paltry 29 percent from the field in the second half on 9-of-31
shooting, wouldn’t score again for nearly three minutes, and by the time Anthony Tarke ended the drought with a free throw on a flagrant foul call against Ricky Doyle with 1:27 to go, there was too little time left. Goodwin’s layup just inside of a minute to go removed all doubt.
“I think our guards minds are in a good place right now,” Goodwin said. “We’re playing with confidence, we’re communicating with each other, building team chemistry, and we’re looking a lot better on the defensive end which is what we’ve been preaching since the beginning of the year.”
The Eagles started to push the pace after a sluggish, grindy start to the game over the first 10 or so minutes with a 9-0 run. Dinero Mercurius hit a three, following by back to back driving layups, first from Johnson then from Goodwin. Goodwin laid in another bucket in transition after a Johnson steal to make it 24-17 FGCU.
Minutes later, a Goodwin steal turned into feeding Johnson for a slam in the fastbreak, as the Eagles grew the lead to as many as 10, 29-19, with 5:12 left in the first half. They matched the lead near the end of the first half at 36-26 on another steal turned Goodwin bucket. The Highlanders turned it over 13 times in the first half, turning into 19 FGCU points.
But FGCU didn’t fare much better hanging onto the basketball. The Eagles turned it over 19 times on Saturday, compared to 17 for NJIT.
HIGHLANDER STARS LIMITED
It was a miserable night for the Highlanders’ top players.
Leading scorer Anthony Tarke, who came in averaging 15.2 points per game, had just six points, going 2-of-11 from the field.
Abdul Lewis, NJIT’s leading rebounder and stud big man returned after missing the last two games with a hip injury. The still recovering Lewis played 24 minutes, and had eight points and just two rebounds.
It was a pair of bench players, Cooks and Jones, who led NJIT with 12 and 11 points respectively.
WAIT, THEY DUNK?
FGCU hasn’t been living up to the Dunk City nickname much this season, but a pair of slams in the second half brought back a few visions of the past. Michael Gilmore was fouled while slamming home an alley-oop from Johnson, then Ricky Doyle flushed one home moments later to make it 52-40 Eagles.
“It was a slow-paced game where the fans couldn’t really get into it because of the pacing, but I thought Ricky and Michael gave us some good energy,” Dooley said. “That little sequence they were able to play off each other.”
Freshman guard Darnell Rogers didn’t dress Saturday, and watched from the bench in street clothes. Dooley said he’s going through the concussion protocol.
Senior center Antravious Simmons returned to the floor Saturday after missing the last two games with a leg injury. Simmons was available on Thursday, but the plan was not to use him if he wasn’t necessary. Simmons played three minutes, and hit on his only shot.
NUMBERS TO KNOW
21, 10, 8 – Goodwin’s night left him two assists away from the first triple-double in FGCU history.
3-0 – FGCU and Jacksonville are currently the only undefeated teams in the Atlantic Sun. The two meet in Fort Myers on Jan. 27.
at Lipscomb, Thursday
at Kennesaw State, Saturday
at North Florida, Jan. 24
Jacksonville, Jan. 27
North Florida, Jan. 29
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