FGCU senior forward Marc-Eddy Norelia scored on an and-one with the Eagles down 82-73 with 35.3 seconds left in No. 14-seeded FGCU’s first-round NCAA Tournament game in Orlando Thursday night, giving the Eagles one last chance to spark a comeback trailing No. 3-seeded Florida State by six.
All the while Norelia’s teammate, Demetris Morant – the only other senior on the FGCU roster – watched from the sideline with crutches and a boot on his sprained right foot, which he re-aggravated with 18 minutes left to go in the second half.
With Morant unable to return to the game after the injury, an unfortunate conclusion to his final collegiate game in the Green and Blue, the Eagles were never able to get over the hump despite refusing to back down. In the end, the two seniors ended their careers in similar fashion.
“It’s terrible to have our dream cut so short because we definitely felt that we were on the perfect side of the bracket, where we could have really made it an even more special year than it already was,” said a defeated Norelia, who had nine points to go along with six rebounds.
In a game that saw Florida State grab hold of an early lead thanks to big man Michael Ojo, a 7-foot-1 center, the Seminoles were only strengthened by 6-foot-10 freshman Jonathan Isaac. The multi-faceted talent became more tough to guard as the game went on, finishing with a 17-point, 10-rebound double-double, capped off by five assists, three blocks and two steals.
Even Christ Koumadje, a 7-foot-4 center, got into the action with Morant’s absence, adding seven points, three rebounds and four blocks in 21 minutes of floor time.
Together, the towering trio made it extremely difficult for an FGCU team that came in as the top post scoring team in the nation to find success anywhere around the basket.
“The whole game we felt like, there wasn’t one play in particular that allowed us to get a drive going, but unfortunately our runs weren’t enough to get the job done.”
A contest that was as close as four points at halftime, 40-36, saw FGCU and Florida State go back and forth on multiple trips down the floor in the second half; but the Eagles found themselves fighting a lid on the basket when the game was in its most precious moments.
While it just wasn’t their night on the offensive end, Norelia, an Orlando native playing in front of his home crowd, remembered more than just his team’s and his own shots rimming out as he stood tall in the locker room moments after the Eagles were exiled from March Madness.
It was his teammates’ bright future, which he vowed should be even better than the 2016-17 season they just embarked on, and his own time at FGCU that he pictured in such high regard.
“It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life,” Norelia said of his choice to become an Eagle after one year spent at Tulane as a college freshman, going on to become one of three players in FGCU program history to score more than 1,000 career points and 600 rebounds.
“I think that I’ve grown a lot as a basketball player, but more as a man that sees what life’s about. How to move forward and the commitment that I made in the community, it was just very special.”
© 2017 Naples Herald. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.