By Robbie Lastella
FGCU 72 – FAU 68
It was a battle of a past Cinderella (FGCU) against a team trying to avoid that title (FAU) and it resulted in FGCU coming out on top. The Eagles, who were ranked 226th on Ken Pom upset #7 FAU at home in front of a sellout crowd 72-68 and gave the Owls their second Q4 loss of the year.
“Hats off to Florida Gulf Coast, they played extremely well. They stepped up and made timely plays, other than our rebound advantage they probably outplayed us in every facet of the game. As a group we haven’t handled success as well as we need to. Going forward, as we close the 2023 pre conference schedule, we are pleased with where we are over all but what we’ve learned is that our highs are very high and our lows are relatively low, back to the drawing board as we head into league play,” Coach Dusty May said after the game.
The lows were indeed low, as the Owls struggled to the tune of 20% from deep and 59% from the free throw line and the missed chances cost them in the end. Every time FAU was able to make a run FGCU had an answer to match it, and then some. A similar loss to the Bryant matchup, as in both games FAU struggled from the field, but Coach May believes this loss is different and that FGCUs ability to respond to runs from FAU and the Owls’ mistakes were a big part of FGCUs success tonight.
“This game felt a little bit different in that we were on the verge of extending some runs and we would drop the ball, we would lose it, something would happen that would stop a run. Maybe it’s a 3 on 1 break where we turn it over and they hit a 3 going the other way. The Bryant game we never felt we had any type of rhythm or we were able to string together a couple possessions, I thought there was a stretch in the second half where we started playing really good basketball and then we would have an unfortunate error that would just steamroll on it us, it would just stop our runs,” Coach May said.
The 1st half featured a lid on the basket for FAU, as the team didn’t break 20 points until 12 minutes into the game. FAU struggled to stay in it, but they managed to keep it within single digits despite struggles from just about everybody and the Owls looked to cue up another second half comeback victory.
In previous second half comebacks, FAU has come out of the gates soaring and they attempted to do that tonight with Vlad Goldin scoring off a turnover to start the second half. But as they did all night, FGCU responded, and on the very next possession Dallion Johnson hit a triple to re-ignite the home fanbase early in the second half.
Johnell Davis did his best to try to keep the Owls in it, going on an 8-2 run himself to cut the lead to 48-43 with 12:41 to play. In what became a theme, FGCU responded and quickly- going on a 7-2 run of their own to increase the lead to 55-45 with 10:36 to play.
The Owls’ biggest run of the night and their best chance to comeback and win this game started with 7:17 to play and FAU trailing by 9. FAU was able to get points from 4 different players and in under 3 minutes the game was tied at 62 with 4:46 to play.
FGCU didn’t falter, getting back to back triples from Zach Anderson on the next 2 possessions and grabbing the lead right back. FAU attempted to fight back, tying it up once again with 1:27 left to play after Vlad hit 2 free throws. But, as it went all night there was FGCU once again with a response, this time another 3 from Johnson and it ended up being the Dagger.
The Owls had a chance to try to respond following that, and got 2 offensive rebounds on the ensuing possession, but missed a 3 pointer each time. Following a bit of a foul game and some clock drama FGCU closed it out on their home court, and locked in their first top 10 win in school history.
Vlad Goldin gave FAU 21 points and 7 rebounds and Johnell Davis had 17 points, but outside of that it was a streaky night for the Owls offense. For FGCU, Anderson had 21 and Johnson had 18 but the team as a whole was able to find success more easily than FAU, and get buckets from other guys when needed.
FAU has some work to do on being able to respond to big wins by treating every game after that with the same mentality. Bigger than that however, the Owls need to find a way to address their free throw line struggles as it cost them tonight and it will continue to cost them going forward. Among free throws, there are other issues that Coach May believes he and the team need to improve on.
“We haven’t shot free throws nearly well enough to be championship caliber yet, but we didn’t shoot the ball well from 3 and we didn’t take care of the ball as well as we normally do. We’re not going to win a lot of games on the road if we shoot 4/20 from 3 and as poorly as we did at the line including some front ends on the 1 and 1s as well and then we give up almost 50% shooting 45% from 3 it’s just not a recipe for success,” Coach May said.
Coach is proud of where his team is at following a tough non-conference schedule, but there is still work to be done and the loss tonight highlighted that. FAU will be able to look back on this loss and learn a lot from it, but they will need to do exactly that and not let the loss affect them.
It will be a quick turnaround for FAU as they start conference play on Tuesday, January 2nd against ECU. Owls fans will be able to watch this one on ESPN2 as it is one of many Owls home games to be broadcast on a linear ESPN network.