What a difference a week makes.
This time one week ago, we were talking about an FGCU men’s basketball team that appeared poised to complete the first perfect conference season in the Atlantic Sun in two decades.
Now, after a pair of losses, 97-93 to Kennesaw State last Thursday, and 90-87 to Lipscomb on Saturday, the Eagles’ regular season finale at Stetson on Thursday isn’t about perfection, it’s about putting the wheels back on the bus.
“Guard somebody,” Eagles coach Joe Dooley said about how to get things back on track after Saturday’s loss. “We’ve got to get back to our identity. Guarding, making sure we’re not giving up easy baskets and the ball needs to move.”
Dooley’s got a point. The Eagles(20-10, 11-2 ASUN) are 3-9 this season when allowing 80 points or more. And the defense appeared to be the weak link in their last two games.
Kennesaw State shot 63 percent from the floor in the second half of their game, while Lipscomb was able to get hot and stay that way, hitting on 57 percent of their shots against a team which, even with the stumbles has the conference’s best defensive efficiency rating from basketball analytics service KenPom.
One could argue that after clinching the conference, there wasn’t really anything to play for until Monday, when the winner-take-all ASUN tournament begins. After all, nobody from the ASUN was going to get an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. But the losses could mean the difference between a salivating upset opportunity as a No. 14 or No. 15 seed, and being a No. 16 playing a juggernaut – or worse, a trip to Dayton.
Not that Dooley is buying.
“We don’t need to worry about seeding, we need to worry about Thursday,” Dooley said.
No dice on the “nothing to play for” either.
“You only get 31 games to play. What I don’t get is how you couldn’t be unbelievably excited every time to play,” Dooley said. “Don’t cheat the game, don’t cheat yourself.”
If there’s one sliver of good news for FGCU to wrap their season, other than homecourt all next week, it’s that Stetson(12-18, 4-9) could make for a good slumpbuster. When these two teams met in Fort Myers on Jan. 6, the Eagles led by as many as 44 in a 90-52 rout of the Hatters.
“We have the athletes, we have the coaching staff to put us in the right position and we’ve got to get guys back to doing what we had before,” senior guard Christian Terrell said.
Of course, the Hatters have also been a thorn in FGCU’s side in past years, too. The last time these two played in DeLand on the season’s final day was in 2015, where a late Stetson run to stun the Eagles nearly sent them on the road all tournament long, and the Eagles needed overtime after both team’s improbable runs to the conference final to punch a dance ticket. Last season, it was the Eagles needing a late run to pull away in the closing minutes to clinch the ASUN regular season.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Avoid the hole – FGCU has trailed by double-digits in the second half of their last three games. The comeback worked against a hapless USC-Upstate team, but more competent teams can punish them for lapses.
Defense for offense – What makes the FGCU offense so deadly is the transition game, and that all starts on defense. Missed shots leading to run-outs ahead of the opposing team, and turnovers to push pace and drive numbers in transition are key cogs in this offense. A team that makes shots gets set on defense and gets to dictate tempo…and that’s not what FGCU wants.
Tune-up Time – After Thursday, it’s win-or-go-home. An 11-0 start no longer matters starting Feb. 26. Thursday is the last chance to work out the bugs.
FGCU vs. STETSON
Thursday, 7:00 p.m.
Edmunds Center, DeLand
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