FGCU, shown here playing Wednesday against UTSA, struggled on defense during the Gulf Coast Showcase at Hertz Arena. MATT ROTHMAN/SPECIAL TO CSI
ESTERO — Defending, rebounding and ball movement.
They’re what Florida Gulf Coast University men’s basketball coach Michael Fly preaches every day. Yet, they were nowhere to be found this week as the Eagles struggled mightily during the three-day, eight-team Gulf Coast Showcase at Hertz Arena — a stone’s throw away from the FGCU campus.
“We’re just trying to come together and not look for excuses,” said Fly, whose Eagles (2-5) went winless in three Showcase games, punctuated by Wednesday’s 76-65 loss to University of Texas at San Antonio. “Yep, we’re missing guys, but every team in the country is missing guys. I told them I will take blame because my message is not getting through to them from a defend and rebound standpoint.
“We’re going to go back to the building blocks when we start practice on Friday and get this thing right.”
FGCU began the week with some momentum following Friday’s six-point home win over mid-major powerhouse South Dakota State. The good vibes didn’t last long, though, as eventual Showcase champion Toledo led FGCU wire to wire and won 90-62 in the teams’ tourney opener Monday night.
About 16 hours after Monday’s final buzzer, the Eagles were back in action for a Tuesday matinee against Colorado State. Once again, FGCU struggled in an 82-74 loss to the Rams. Had they beaten Colorado State, the Eagles could have earned a rematch with South Dakota State on Wednesday; instead, they faced UTSA in the seventh-place game. After taking a two-point lead into halftime, FGCU was outscored 42-29 in the final 20 minutes to drop their third straight.
FGCU will be back in action Sunday when they head to Boca Raton for a 3 p.m. tip-off against FAU. The Eagles return home for games on Wednesday and Dec. 2 against FIU and Colgate, respectively.
Coming into the tournament, FGCU allowed at least 74 points to every Division I school it’s faced this season. The opposition’s onslaught continued at the Showcase, where the Eagles yielded an average of just over 82 points.
Buckets were fairly easy to come by against FGCU: Toledo shot 51 percent from the field; Colorado State shot 60 percent; and although the Eagles held UTSA to 45 percent shooting overall, the Roadrunners shot 55 percent in the second half.
The Eagles have been playing this season without forwards RaySean Scott and Brian Thomas. Their only healthy big men are Brady Ernst, Troy Baxter and Ricky Doyle.
With Scott and Thomas sidelined, Fly has been running out a small lineup — four guards on the floor pretty much the entire game. FGCU was outrebounded in all three Showcase games, yielding an average of nine offensive rebounds per game to its opponents.
One of the Eagles’ lone bright spots thus far has been Ernst. After playing sporadically in his first season with FGCU, the Iowa native and Iowa State transfer has taken on a much bigger role this season due to the lack of frontcourt depth. He had a season-high 11 boards against UTSA.
FGCU really hasn’t had much of a problem putting up points — the Eagles scored 82 (albeit in a 24-point loss) at No. 10 Michigan State.
When looking at the numbers, though, assist-to-turnover ratio (93-101) has been a concern for FGCU. In two of the three Showcase games, FGCU had more turnovers than assists. No Eagle had more than four assists in a game, and FGCU allowed 30 points off turnovers in the three games.
One positive for FGCU has been points in the paint. The Eagles have struggled from 3-point range the last few games, but have been able to offset that by getting to the rim frequently.