FGCU men’s basketball team continues record-breaking start

FGCU men’s basketball team continues record-breaking start

Slow starts have been one of the few blemishes on the FGCU men’s basketball team’s otherwise impressive resume so far this season.

That certainly wasn’t a problem in Saturday’s 82-57 win over ASUN foe North Florida at Alico Arena.

The Eagles (13-4, 3-1) played one of their best early stretches of the season, dominating the Ospreys in every aspect and effectively putting the game away with a 23-0 run during an early seven-minute stretch.

That effort was especially impressive considering Saturday’s game was FGCU’s fourth in seven days and followed back-to-back road contests at Central Arkansas and Austin Peay. The Eagles went 3-1 during that stretch, but gasped Thursday, dropping their first ASUN game of the season to Austin Peay.

“We needed some confidence because we weren’t ourselves (against Austin Peay),” FGCU coach Pat Chambers said. “We looked a step slow, we just looked like zombies out there. This gets into your head, plays with your head a little.

“So I thought going into this first half, I thought it was really important that we get off to a good start … I felt like the guys really came together and did it (Saturday).

Senior guard Isaiah Thompson said the team held a players-only meeting Friday after the tight loss at Austin Peay.

“I think we just had a different return from us,” Thompson said. “We played with a chip on our shoulder; we lit a fire under us as players.”

Thompson had seven of his 15 points during the early scoring spurt that put the Eagles up 29-7 with 8:18 to go in the first half. It was the culmination of a terrific 20-minute performance for FGCU, which also saw the Eagles hold the Ospreys (7-9, 2-2) to 31% shooting and outscored them 27-11, including an 11-2 advantage on the offensive glass and a 14-0 margin in second-chance points.

North Florida never closed the deficit to less than 15 points the rest of the way.

Four players scored in double figures for FGCU, led by redshirt sophomore center Andre Weir, who had 18 points to go with 15 rebounds and three blocked shots. Thompson added four assists in addition to his 15 points, while senior guard Cyrus Largie and junior guard Chase Johnston each scored 11.

Senior forward Carter Hendricksen led the Ospreys with 12 points.

Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s game.

Away shines down for FGCU. The 6-foot-10 Weir posted his first career double-double Saturday in his return to the starting lineup after starting the Eagles’ last few games off the bench. Chambers said he was proud of Weir for how he handled the challenge, which included scoring a career-high 22 points off the bench in last Monday’s 84-79 overtime win at Central Arkansas.

“I put him back in the starting lineup and that’s how he comes out and plays,” Chambers said. “He has to be consistent, he understands that. He is really growing. He’s really maturing and we’ve got to keep him moving in that direction.”

Weir said the trust his teammates have in him is a driving factor behind his strong play of late.

“All year long, everybody tells me nobody can stop you, you’re the best in the league,” Weir said. “I think the biggest thing for me has been my guys lifting me up every day, no matter if I have a bad game, if I’m in foul trouble, whatever, my guys pick me up.”

A “big” X-factor is back in delivery for FGCU. Another Eagles player who returned to the starting lineup Saturday was senior guard Cyrus Largie. The team’s leading scorer missed six weeks after injuring his left hand in FGCU’s 81-50 loss at Tennessee on Nov. 16. In his first start of the season against the Ospreys, the 6-foot-3 Largie played a season-best 25. minutes, scoring 11 points and pulling down seven rebounds.

“He’s back and he’s on fire,” Thompson said of Largie. “We need a guy who can do everything on the court and play as hard as he does. I am happy that he is in my team and I don’t have to play against him.”

The Eagles are off to a historic start to the season. With the win over North Florida on Saturday, FGCU ran its season record to 13-4. This is the program’s best 17-game start since Division I play began in 2007-08. The Eagles are also a perfect 6-0 at Alico Arena, their best home start since 2016-17. In 2012-13, FGCU’s ‘Dunk City’ team finished 15-1 at Alico Arena and won its first nine home games, setting program marks for both during the Division I era.

While Thompson said he appreciates the importance of FGCU’s record-breaking start to this season, he is more concerned with how the team finishes it.

“We’re off to a really good start, but that’s not the end goal,” he said. “The ultimate goal is to win the ASUN tournament championship and make it to the NCAA Tournament. I think if we take that game by game, I think we can put ourselves in position to do that.”

Connect with Dan DeLuca: @News-PressDan (Twitter), [email protected]

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