For the sixth time in the last seven years, the FGCU men’s basketball team will be playing for a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Behind a lights-out shooting performance, the Eagles upstaged one of the most prolific three-point shooting teams in the nation, blowing past North Florida, 95-72 on Thursday.
The Eagles hit eight of their first nine three-point attempts, including five in a row late in the first half.
Leading 30-27 midway through the first half, Zach Johnson hit a three with a hand in his face to start the barrage. Johnson hit three of the five, and Christian Terrell followed the spree of threes with a right-hand drive, capping off a 17-2 run and putting the Eagles up 47-29.
“I was just taking open shots, not counting how many I made,” Johnson said. “I was just doing what I can do to help the team.”
FGCU(23-10) hit a season-high 13 three pointers. Johnson had five of them.
Coming into the game, it seemed likely that it would be the Ospreys trying to establish the outside shot, while the Eagles tried to control the paint. Instead, while the Eagles were hitting threes, UNF hit all but two of their two-point attempts in the first half, and even jumped out to a 13-4 lead in the opening minutes.
“I thought their experience really shined through tonight,” UNF coach Matt Driscoll said. “They never stopped and they kept coming at us.”
But Michael Gilmore scored five quick points, part of his 16, and moments later Brandon Goodwin had the Eagles in the lead after a blisteringly fast drive made it 16-15.
“They came out on a roll, and it just took us a minute to gather ourselves,” Goodwin said.
Goodwin led the Eagles with 18 points, one of five in double figures, scoring 10 of them in the second half as the Eagles continued to stretch their lead and pull away.
After the Ospreys got as close as eight at 57-49 with 16:39 to go, the Eagles rattled off yet another 17-2 run, a two-hand slam from Johnson with 10:07 left gave the Eagles their largest lead of the night to that point at 74-53.
It didn’t hurt that the Eagles turned it over just seven times Thursday.
“Statistically we’ve been good all year, it’s been the turnover percentage,” Eagles coach Joe Dooley said. “The big thing is taking care of the ball. Even bad shots can be turnovers, it’s the same thing. The guys have done a good job of valuing the ball and sharing possessions.”
A pair of dunks in the closing minutes – an alley-oop from Goodwin to Gilmore, and a putback slam by RaySean Scott Jr., provided the exclamation point, and sent many home fans toward the exits to buy their tickets for Sunday’s championship game.
Since becoming tournament eligible in 2012, the Eagles have missed the conference tournament final just once. And even that loss, a semifinal loss in 2015 to USC-Upstate, was by just a single point.
It’s a run that passed over two coaches, and a whole rotating cast of players.
“It’s a program, not a team,” Dooley said. “We’ve talked about trying to build something sustainable. We’re fortunate that we’ve had good players and a good atmosphere, and that’s something you strive to do.”
NUMBERS TO KNOW
13 – 13 three-pointers in a game is a season-high, and best ever in a tournament game for the Eagles.
95.5 – FGCU’s scoring average in the last two tournament games, their highest and second highest scoring output in ASUN tournament games
1,000, 500, 250 – Christian Terrell’s career scoring, rebound, and assist numbers, the first player in program history to hit all three marks.
No. 1 FGCU vs No. 2 Lipscomb
Sunday, 3 p.m.
Radio: FOX Sports
Results this season: FGCU 88, Lipscomb 83(Nashville, Tenn., Jan. 18); Lipscomb 90, FGCU 87(Fort Myers, Feb. 17)
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