The FGCU men’s basketball team became the first team in the country to clinch its conference title on Saturday, but it didn’t come without a challenge.
Trailing by as many as 18, and by 15 at the half, the Eagles stormed back in the second half en route to an 88-71 win over USC-Upstate in Spartanburg, S.C. on Saturday to clinch the Atlantic Sun regular-season title.
Coming into Saturday’s game, the Eagles(20-8, 11-0 ASUN) needed a win or a loss by Lipscomb to lock up the title, and the all important top seed in the ASUN tournament next month.
For a while it didn’t look like a given.
USC-Upstate(7-21, 2-9) jumped out to an 11-0 lead to open the game, and with 7:22 left in the first half, a three from Mike Cunningham had the last-place Spartans leading 32-14.
“We had no answer early; they made a bunch of 3s – and we’re usually a good 3-point defensive team,” Eagles coach Joe Dooley said. “But we were able to get some stops in the 2nd half and get out in transition for some easy buckets. We mixed up our defenses a little bit and were able to get Upstate off the 3-point line in the 2nd half.”
Upstate hit nine threes in the first half, five of them by Cunningham as part of a 44-29 lead at the break.
But the Eagles took off in the second, coming all the way back to take the lead at 52-51 on a Zach Johnson layup with 11:08 to go, never looking back from that point.
Raysean Scott Jr. led the Eagles with 21 points, a career-high, and capped his day off with an emphatic slam with 4:44 to go that stretched the FGCU lead to 72-61.
FGCU shot 73 percent from the floor in the second half, hitting 24 of their 33 shots.
Five Eagles scored in double figures. Brandon Goodwin scored 19 points, while Johnson and Christian Terrell added 14 each, and Antravious Simmons had 11.
Cunningham had 26 to lead the Spartans.
FGCU returns home on Thursday for their final regular season swing, playing Kennesaw State and then Lipscomb on Saturday, before concluding the season at Stetson.
WHAT IT MEANS
The Eagles have homecourt advantage for the duration of the Atlantic Sun tournament, in which each game is hosted by the higher seeded team.
By winning the regular season title, should FGCU fail to make the NCAA Tournament, they are guaranteed a berth in the NIT.
FGCU WOMEN DOUBLE UP SPARTANS
Taylor Gradinjan scored 22 points, and the Eagles set a program-record for assists in an 88-44 rout of USC-Upstate on Saturday.
FGCU had 31 assists on Saturday, the most for the program in a Division I game, eight of them from guard Erica Nelson.
The Eagles(23-4, 9-1) led 42-22 at the half, and were never seriously threatened in the win.
Tytionia Adderly had a double-double, 16 points and 13 rebounds, while Nasrin Ulel also added 10 points. The Eagles hit 17 threes in the win, six of them by Gradinjan.
No player for Upstate(9-16, 4-6) scored in double figures. Brittney Delva and Michaela Gibbson led the Spartans with nine each.
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