FGCU loses in final seconds to USC-Upstate

Author: Jason MacBain

Making yet another late-game charge, the FGCU men’s basketball team (14-6, 3-1 ASUN) erased an eight-point deficit in the final 3+ minutes, took the lead, but eventually fell just short as USC Upstate (13-8, 3-1 ASUN) converted a game-winning layup off an offensive rebound with 1.9 seconds to play to hand the Eagles a 62-60 loss Thursday night at Alico Arena.

Trailing 54-46 with just more than 3:30 to play in the game, the Eagles made a furious 90-second charge, going on a 10-0 run to take a 56-54 lead following a steal and massive one-handed dunk by Zach Johnson. However, USC Upstate hit a crucial 3-pointer on its ensuing possession to go back ahead, and followed it up with another 3-pointer with just over a minute left to take a 60-56 lead.

Unfazed, FGCU again responded, and on a pair of Johnson (Miami, Fla./Norland HS) free throws with 17.6 seconds remaining tied the game back up at 60-60.

That set up a final offensive possession for the Spartans. The Eagles got the initial stop, but Upstate’s Michael Buchanan grabbed the rebound and converted the putback to give FGCU just its fourth home regular-season loss to an ASUN opponent since 2012-13.

“After about the midway point of the 1st half, Upstate controlled the game,” commented FGCU head coach Joe Dooley, whose team built a lead as large as 28-16 before Upstate closed the opening stanza on a 16-2 run for a 32-30 halftime edge. “You’ve got to win home games, and tonight our focus wasn’t as good as it should have been. But you need to give Upstate a lot of credit – they made plays when they had to – and we made some plays to keep us in the game, but we dug ourselves too big of a hole.”

The hole was as large as 11 in the 2nd half, 50-39, with 12:31 remaining. The Eagles turned up the defensive pressure and held the Spartans without a point for more than 8 minutes until they scored at the 4:27 mark. However, in that timeframe the Eagles were only able to trim the deficit down to four, 50-46; something uncharacteristic of this year’s team.

FGCU entered the game as the 3rd-best shooting team in the nation at 52.1 percent from the floor, but connected at just a 43.1-percent clip (25-58) Thursday. Entering the final 3:30, the Eagles were only 37.7 percent from the floor (20-53), but the Green and Blue made their final five attempts of the evening. It’s the first time this year that FGCU has lost when shooting better than their opponent from the floor (Upstate: 40.4 percent).

Brandon Goodwin (Norcross, Ga./UCF/Norcross HS) led FGCU with 12 points and also secured six rebounds. Johnson and Antravious Simmons (Miami, Fla./VCU/South Miami HS) tallied 11 points each, and Christian Terrell (Jacksonville, Fla./Providence HS) added 10 points. Demetris Morant (Miami, Fla./UNLV/Bishop Gorman HS) narrowly missed a double-double yet again with nine points and nine rebounds.

The 60 points were one more than FGCU’s season low of 59 set twice this year against Florida and Georgia Southern. The Eagles entered the evening as the 2nd-highest scoring team in the ASUN at 81.2 per game.

FGCU had won nine of the last 10 meetings – including seven in a row during the regular season – against the Spartans, but that streak and the Eagles’ seven-game winning streak overall were snapped in front of a sellout crowd and season-high 4,582 fans inside Alico Arena. FGCU is now 29-4 at home in the regular season against ASUN foes since 2012-13.

Mike Cunningham came off the bench to lead Upstate as its lone double-figure scorer with 14 points on 4-7 from 3-point range. As a team, the Spartans shot 12-27 (44.4 percent) from beyond the arc – tied for the most 3-pointers the Eagles have allowed this year. FGCU entered the contest ranked 23rd in the country in 3-point percentage defense, limiting opponents to just 30.2 percent from distance.

The Eagles have now opened ASUN play with four-straight games decided by four points or less. In total, FGCU’s first four league games have been decided by just 10 points (1-point win, 3-point win, 4-point win, 2-point loss).

Despite the loss, FGCU remains in 1st place in the ASUN standings, but is now joined there by USC Upstate, Lipscomb and North Florida all at 3-1.

FGCU will look to bounce back on Saturday, Jan. 21, at 7 p.m. when the Eagles welcome NJIT (9-11, 1-3 ASUN) to The Nest. The Highlanders dropped an 82-76 decision at Stetson on Thursday night. NJIT’s lone early-season ASUN victory was an impressive one, however, as the Highlanders defeated North Florida, 84-78, last Saturday.

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