It's no secret that the Eagles hit a little bit of a skid heading into tournament time. With back-to-back losses against UNF and at JU, it was starting to look as if FGCU was ready to go quietly in the A-Sun quarterfinals for the first time in program history. As it turns out, Dunk City was having none of that narrative, at least not on Tuesday night. The Dolphins, led by A-Sun Newcomer of the Year, Kori Babineaux, were able to hang tough in the first half, but ran out of steam late in the game.
It was clear Jacksonville was riding on energy in the first half from their home win over FGCU on Saturday. The game started back and forth, and featured 10 lead changes. Jacksonville came out and hit seven threes, while the Eagles only hit two of 11. Andris Misters got into foul trouble early for JU, but Marcellous Bell more than picked up the production with four threes in the first half. Bell finished with 15 points on five three-pointers.
FGCU had multiple eight point leads in the first half, but the Dolphins kept finding ways to hang around. Finally, with eight seconds remaining in the half, Jamail Jones nailed a three-pointer from the corner to give the Eagles what looked like a seven point lead going into the locker room. However, Babineaux took the inbounds pass, drove to the top of the key, and banked a three as time expired. 38-34 FGCU lead.
The Eagles came out shooting the ball much better in the second half. FGCU hit their first seven shots of the half, including two Comer-to-Morant alley-oops, to race out to a 55-43 lead. Still, Jacksonville was not going to let Dunk City pull away. Babineaux, who played all but one minute for the Dolphins, took matters into his own hands by driving to the hoop every chance he could get. Still, the FGCU defense was resilient and held him to five of 13 shooting in the second half. Babineaux finished with 20 on eight of 19 from the floor.
JU couldn't make shots in crunch time, and the Eagles ran away with the game at the very end. The Dolphins didn't have a single field goal in the final 4:38 seconds, and FGCU was able to close the game on a 12-1 scoring run. The Dolphins played as well as they have all season, they just couldn't match up with the horses Dunk City features.
"Once we got in a little rhythm here in the second half, I thought we did a nice job of turning stops into transition points, which I thought was important," head coach Joe Dooley said. "We made a couple shots and got a little bit of confidence going. I thought Meech did a really good job, and Brett and Julian, Mellow, I thought the guys did a nice job of moving the ball. We had some possessions where passed the ball, and passed up good shots to get great shots."
FGCU proved to be too much for the Dolphins down the stretch, and the Eagles were able to get back to their winning ways. JU's big men were no match for FGCU's, and got out-rebounded 41-24.
Dunk City got major contributions from many different players. Brett Comer, like usual, did a tremendous job facilitating the offense with 14 points and 11 assists. Despite being in foul trouble for much of the game, Julian DeBose was able to post a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Demetris Morant tallied his first collegiate double-double with 12 points, four on lobs from Comer, and 10 rebounds. Marc-Eddy Norelia came close to aiding the program to its first four-double-double game, but came up two shy in the rebound department. Still, he had an outstanding game with 19 points and 8 rebounds.
"Marc Eddy's energy, and we talked about it all last year, when he brings that energy, and he's been on the uptick, we talked about when he plays like that and goes after the ball and is effective around the basket, that really helps," Dooley said. "We thought that Meech, and even the minutes that Nate played, I thought Nate gave us a presence around the basket."
FGCU has their work cut out for them on Thursday night. USC Upstate, led by reigning A-Sun Player of the Year, Ty Greene, man-handled Kennesaw State by a final of 90-54. With emotions running high, and the Spartans out to avenge two losses from earlier in the season, the Eagles are going to have to be at their absolute best. A-Sun Madness continues at Alico Arena Thursday night at 7 p.m. as FGCU looks to advance to the conference championship for the third year in a row.