Men’s basketball Comeback Ends Short Against FGCU

Joslyn Simmons

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Video by Jas Chung

With only nine guaranteed games left this season, the men’s basketball team is still working on finding its rhythm.  In a tension-filled final moments, North Florida’s (9-14 overall, 3-3 ASUN) comeback fell short for the 96-87 loss to the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles at the UNF Arena on Jan.24.  

“We got to be more mentally tough to take care of the little details,” Coach Matthew Driscoll said.

In the first half, the Eagles came out quick and created an early lead over the home team. FGCU controlled the pace in the opening stretch before UNF began a mini-run of their own to knot the score at 12.

Midway through the half, North Florida’s starters picked up their pace with layups and three-pointers to bring the gap closer.

Garret Sams who is holding the ball had to step out of the game for a bit Photo by Lili Weinstein

Garrett Sams, who injured his ankle earlier in the season, did come out of the game for a short moment after gingerly walking off the court, but would return for the remainder of the game. Sams ended his night with 20 points with four buckets coming from beyond the arc.

The Eagles showed the Jacksonville crowd why they were called Dunk City with multiple slams by Zach Johnson.  

At the break, FGCU held a 53-41 lead over UNF with the momentum in their corner.

From the sideline, Driscoll watched the game being controlled by FGCU until the switch clicked for his team.

“I thought our energy level was bad to start,” Driscoll said. “I thought they got rolling, and I thought we allow our offense to dictate our energy. And then in the second half, we decided to do what we were suppose to do.”

When the second half resumed, the Ospreys’ increased their defensive presence, which created turnovers from the Eagles and points on the opposite end.

The Ospreys knocked down three-pointers to keep the game within range to overcome the deficit. Several times during the night, the score was only separated by three points.  

JT Escobar saw how a better defensive stand lead to having the offensive juices flowing.

“I think the biggest thing was we were finally getting stops; we were finally getting rebounds and that always leads to points for us,” Escobar said. “We decided to lock in on the defensive end, and then it just lead to wide open shots.”

In the final stretch, the ball game became a little chippy with double technicals called on Escobar and FGCU’s Michael Gilmore.

“It was just tension was a little high, and we just kind of got tangled up,” Escobar said. “It was kind of just a heat of the moment thing.”

FGCU commanded the paint over the Ospreys Photo by Lili Weinstein

Florida Gulf Coast commanded the paint 56-26 over North Florida. The Eagles also saw a huge night of productivity from their bench with 34 points compared to only eight from the Ospreys.  North Florida forced 19 FGCU’s miscues while having 12 of their own. FGCU outrebounded UNF 46 to 28. The Ospreys knocked down 16 out of a game-high 47 attempts from behind the arc.

“I actually told them today at shoot around,” Driscoll said. “I think we should take somewhere between 30 to 35 threes tonight because of the way they play and what we are going to get.”

Escobar finished the night with 28 points knocking in six from downtown on his own. He led three other teammates in double figures. Johnson had a team-high 19 points to add to the other four Eagles’ teammates in double digits.

While North Florida and FGCU will see each other in less than a week again, Driscoll and his team are not going to look past their next opponent on the schedule.

The men’s basketball team will hit the road and face Stetson, who has a starting roster of five seniors, on Jan. 27.