FGCU MBB survives another road test

Author: FGCU Athletics
Published: Updated:

NASHVILLE, TN. (FGCU Athletics)- Despite a furious closing stretch by Lipscomb (11-14, 5-5 Atlantic Sun Conference), the FGCU men’s basketball team (19-7, 9-1 A-Sun) won its eighth-straight game behind a game-high 24 points from Jamail Jones Saturday over the Bisons, 76-74, to remain in sole possession of first place in the league.

Leading by 11, 70-59, with less than 5 minutes remaining, the Bisons stormed back to only trail by two with 3 seconds left. FGCU’s leading scorer and all-time career free throws made leader, Bernard Thompson (Conyers, Ga./Rockdale County HS), had a chance to ice the game but missed two free throws and Lipscomb called timeout with 2 seconds left. The Bisons quickly got the ball in the frontcourt, but a Nathan Moran 3-point attempt from about 30 feet hit the front of the rim at the buzzer as the Eagles escaped with their fifth-straight road triumph.

Jones (Atlanta, Ga./Montverde Academy/Marquette) capped his stellar road trip by going 7-9 from the floor, 3-4 from 3-point range and 7-8 from the free-throw line. The redshirt senior scored a career-high 25 points on Thursday in FGCU’s win at Northern Kentucky, and over the two games totaled 49 points, shot 17-20 from the floor, 6-7 from 3-point range and 9-10 from the charity stripe.

Brett Comer (Winter Park, Fla./Winter Park HS) recorded his fifth double-double of the season with 11 points and 10 assists – the ninth time the senior has reached double-figure assists this year. Thompson tallied 15 points to break a streak of two-straight single-digit scoring outings, and Julian DeBose (Washington, D.C./St. John College HS) added 13 to round out the quartet of FGCU double-figure scorers.

“Obviously we didn’t finish the game like we wanted and I’m disappointed in that. We got careless with the ball and didn’t rebound well, they started to hit some outside shots and made it much closer than it should have been,” said FGCU head coach Joe Dooley. “But it’s another road conference win which is always tough to get. Like he did against Northern Kentucky, Jamail played great and set the tone, and everybody else was able to feed off him.”

The victory establishes the longest winning streak in Division-I program history for FGCU, and the road triumph extended what is the longest road winning streak all-time. The win also keeps FGCU alone atop the A-Sun standings, one game clear of North Florida (16-11, 8-2 A-Sun) as the Ospreys won at Kennesaw State (9-18, 3-7 A-Sun) Saturday afternoon, 67-51.

The Eagles opened up a three-game lead over third-place USC Upstate (19-7, 6-4 A-Sun) as Jacksonville (8-19, 2-8 A-Sun) scored 57 second-half points in Spartanburg to claim an 89-70 upset victory over the Spartans – the only team in the A-Sun to have defeated UNF this year. The win also clinched a top-4 finish in the conference for the Eagles, guaranteeing that FGCU will host an A-Sun quarterfinal tournament game at home on Tuesday, Mar. 3.

Neither team led by more than six in the first half as Lipscomb’s largest lead came at the 8-minute mark, 21-18. From there, FGCU responded with an extended 12-3 run to open up its biggest edge of the opening 20 minutes, 30-24, at the 3-minute mark before the teams traded buckets the rest of the half and the Green and Blue took a 34-30 lead into the intermission.

When leading at the half since the start of the 2012-13 season, FGCU is now 37-1. The Eagles slowly built up their second-half lead until it finally reached double figures for the first time at the 13:20 mark, 52-41, following a third alley-oop connection from Comer and Demetris Morant (Miami, Fla./Bishop Gorman HS/UNLV). The lead ballooned to as much as 14 on three separate occasions – all following buckets by Jones – and remained in double figures until the closing 5 minutes.

A quick 5-0 run by Lipscomb in a 30-second span cut the deficit to just six, 70-64, following a Jones turnover. A Thompson contested baseline fadeaway gave FGCU an eight-point lead with 3:30 left, but another 5-0 spurt from the Bisons following an offensive rebound on each possession trimmed the deficit to just three, 72-69, with 2:25 remaining.

Comer – who had been sitting since the 6:49 mark with four fouls – checked back with 2:24 left after Morant picked up his fifth foul and immediately made an impact when he drove and converted a layup with 2:05 left to push the advantage back to five, 74-69. A Lipscomb lay-in by Malcolm Smith followed by an FGCU shot-clock violation with 24 seconds left gave the Bisons a chance to tie the game. However, J.C. Hampton’s 3-point attempt with 15 seconds left just missed and the Bisons grabbed the offensive board and hit one of two free throws to move the score to 74-72.

Lipscomb fouled DeBose with 4 seconds left and he hit both free throws. But on the ensuing inbound after Dooley had taken his final timeout, Comer fouled Smith going up for a layup with 3 seconds left. He hit both before Thompson was fouled on the inbound, setting up a frantic final 3 ticks.

Smith led the Bisons with 23 points and six rebounds, while Josh Williams was the only other double-figure scorer for Lipscomb with 15. For the second time this year, FGCU’s second-ranked national perimeter defense held Lipscomb below its 3-point season average (8.5 makes) as the Bisons made just seven (7-23, 30.4 percent) – two which came in the closing five minutes.

FGCU connected at a 56.5-percent clip from the floor in the second half and finished the game 27-56 for 48.2 percent. The Eagles grabbed 14 offensive rebounds and converted them into 14 second-chance points as now in nine of 10 A-Sun games they have corralled at least double-digit offensive rebounds and double-digit second-chance points.

Morant came off the bench to score eight points and grab four rebounds in only 13 minutes of action. Nate Hicks (Panama City Beach, Fla./J.R. Arnold HS/Georgia Tech) secured a game-high nine rebounds, four of which came on the offensive end.

At 19-7, FGCU is off to its best start in the D-I era, and the 9-1 A-Sun start is also the best in program history. Additionally, with 19 wins FGCU owns more victories than any other D-I team in the state of Florida.

The Eagles will be in search of their third-straight 20-win season when they return home on Thursday, Jan. 19, to face Kennesaw State at 7 p.m. Three of FGCU’s final four regular-season games will take place at The Nest where the Eagles are 40-4 overall since 2012-13, 21-1 against A-Sun opponents and 10-1 this year.

GAME NOTES: Lipscomb still leads the all-time series, 9-6, but over the past eight games FGCU holds a 5-3 edge … the victory avenges a 92-71 defeat at Lipscomb last year … the Bisons are just the second A-Sun team to score 70 points on the Eagles this season … Comer is now only 10 assists shy of 800 for his career … the program’s longest winning streak is 14, set in 2003-04 and 2006-07 … the 2002-03 campaign featured an eight-game run as this current streak is tied for the third-longest all-time.

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