In a chaotic finish, the FGCU men’s basketball team watched their perfect conference season go up in smoke.
After erasing a 15-point second half deficit, Kyle Clarke hit a layup in transition with 15 seconds to go, but when Zach Johnson missed the second of two free throws seconds later, Kennesaw State was able to hold on for an upset, 97-93 on Thursday at Alico Arena.
“I don’t know how many hard lessons we need to learn,” Eagles coach Joe Dooley said. “I learned the first time I put my hand on the stove and got burned I wouldn’t do it again. We put our hand, our elbow, our forearm on it.”
FGCU was out of sorts for much of the night, perhaps the most emblematic moment was a pass from Brandon Goodwin, meant for Dinero Mercurius, that instead ended up in the second row behind the FGCU bench.
Kennesaw State(10-17, 6-6 ASUN), who shot 63 percent from the floor in the second half, threatened to run the Eagles out of the gym, as a 16-2 run turned a 47-46 lead into 63-48 after a Jordan Jones free throw with 12:29 left.
“I knew that run was coming, that’s just who they are,” Kennesaw State coach Al Skinner said. “I expected them to, it’s just important for us to weather the storm and keep our composure.”
But the Eagles(20-9, 11-1), led by 28 points from Goodwin and 23 points from Johnson, started to rally. Several times they trimmed the gap – a Goodwin dunk in transition cut it to 63-60 with 10:00 left, and on two other occasions cut the gap to four.
The Owls kept answering.
Nick Masterson has 19 of his 27 points – tied with James Scott to lead Kennesaw – in the second half, including being up nine with 2:05 to go, and up six with less than a minute left after a pair of Masterson free throws made it 89-83.
“We didn’t defend, you can’t turn it on and turn it off against any team in this league,” Goodwin said. “You can’t get complacent and I think that’s what we did and we allowed guys to get hot…that’s exactly what we said we didn’t want to do.”
A three by Terrell cut the gap 89-88 with 43 seconds left, and a lightning fast layup for the last of his 23 points made it 91-90 with 32 seconds to go.
“We’ve had games like this before, and we should’ve learned then, so I don’t know what’s different about this one,” Terrell said. “Hopefully we learn we have to play each game the same way.”
A missed free throw by Tyler Hooker gave the Eagles a chance to tie, which they did when Goodwin slammed home a dunk with 17 seconds to go to tie it at 92. But Clarke got behind the defense and was able to lay it in for the go-ahead bucket.
“We didn’t sort and get back, I think we were a little too excited,” Goodwin said. “It’s one of those things, when the ball goes in the basket you’ve got to look back and find your man because there’s not much time left.”
Johnson had a chance to tie it at the line, making the first but missing the second. Masterson made one of two at the line on the other end, giving FGCU a chance to set up for the tie or the win with two seconds left, but Michael Gilmore was called for a foul on the inbound as he jockeyed with Terrell for position
The Atlantic Sun was wrapped up last week, but the Eagles have made a habit of clawing their way out of deep holes this season. On Saturday against USC-Upstate, they trailed by as many as 18, and 15 at the half, before putting on the afterburners in an 88-71 win. On Jan. 18, they trailed Lipscomb by 18 in the second half before rallying back to win 88-83.
“One thing about the guy is they are resilient,” Dooley said. “But you put yourself down double figure points, you have to dig out of it. We put ourselves in a big hole.”
FGCU watched a series of streaks end on Thursday. They had won their last seven games at home, their last 13 straight games, 15 conference games in a row, and 15 straight against Kennesaw State.
Thursday’s game was the 29th game of the season for FGCU. Still, they have yet to play with all 12 of their eligible scholarship players. Christian Carlyle was out with an ankle injury, while Raysean Scott was out with an unspecified illness. Both are day-to-day.
at Stetson, Thursday
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