Baker, Banks lead big second half surge that nearly brings Eagles back
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Trailing by 20 points early the second half, the FGCU men’s basketball team rattled off a 21-4 run to climb within one possession down the stretch, but the UNF lead was too much to overcome as the Eagles fell to the Ospreys, 81-74, on the opening Thursday night of Atlantic Sun play at UNF Arena.
The loss is the third in a row for the Eagles who slip to 2-4 on the season and 2-2 in A-Sun openers. The win is the third in a row for UNF (4-3), who entered the game fresh off a team title at the Cancun Challenge.
“I give our guy a lot of credit for coming back from 20 points down and giving us a chance to win it down the stretch,” said head coach Dave Balza. “We’ll take a lot from this game that will help us as the conference season progresses.”
Trailing 52-32 with its offensive struggling just four minutes into the second half, FGCU turned to preseason All-Conference forward Anthony Banks (Lantana, Fla./Santaluces HS), who rattled off the first eight points of a 13-0 run that brought the visitors back to life and trimmed the deficit to 52-45.
After a UNF bucket broke the big run, FGCU closed to within three after a long range field goal from freshman Christophe Varidel (Versoix, Switzerland/Worcester Academy), an old-fashioned three-point play by Banks and a pair of free throws from senior Reed Baker (Naples, Fla./Bishop Verot HS/Michigan) that made it a 56-53 game with 7:20 to play.
The Ospreys were able to build their lead back up to nine on a pair of occasions down the stretch, but each time FGCU responded by cutting it to a one-possession game. The Eagles drew within two, 74-72, with 37 seconds left when junior Marlon Rivera (Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico/Sagemont HS/Santa Fe CC) made the front end of his two free throws and then tipped home his own miss on the second shot.
Unfortunately, for the Eagles, it was their last field goal until the clock read six seconds, as UNF knocked down 5-of-6 free throws in the final 30 seconds to seal the win on the opening evening of conference play.
The A-Sun’s second-best scoring duo entering the game, Baker and Banks combined for 37 points, including 23 over the second half push. Banks just missed recording his second straight 20-point game with 19 points and seven boards. Baker poured in 18 points, sinking 8-of-8 at the line to go along with six steals.
FGCU’s season-best 28 points from the bench were boosted by Varidel’s career-best 16 points. The Eagles also won the turnover battle, committing just 10 miscues while UNF had 20 turnovers that led to 28 points for the Blue and Green.
Senior Brad Haugabrook led five players in double figures for UNF with a game-high 20 points. Haugabrook was limited to just two second half points after pouring 18 in the first. Jimmy Williams’ 12 points and game-high 11 boards helped the Ospreys hold a 45-37 edge on the glass.
After a mid-range jumper by Baker in FGCU’s first possession, the Eagles went six straight trips down the floor without a point as UNF rattled of a 10-0 run to take a 10-2 lead. Haugabrook accounted for seven straight points during UNF’s run.
Baker connected on another jumper and scored the Blue and Green’s first six points to help the visitor’s climb back into the game and eventually take the lead on a three-pointer by Varidel from the left baseline that made it a 21-20 FGCU advantage with 8:14 left in the first half.
The FGCU lead was short-lived, though, as the Ospreys recorded a buck in their very next possession igniting a 17-5 run that gave the home team their largest lead of the half, 37-26, with 1:55 remaining. Again it was Haugabrook giving the Eagles fits, as the senior point guard scored 11 of his 18 first half points during the spurt.
Four straight points by the Eagles cut the UNF lead to seven, 37-30, but a three-pointer by reigning Atlantic Sun Player of the Week Jerron Granberry pushed the home team’s lead back to double-digits, 40-30, at the break. Most of Haugabrook’s points came on penetration, as UNF out-scored FGCU 28-10 in the paint over the first 20 minutes.
UNF picked up right where it left off to open the final frame, producing seven of the first nine points of the half to balloon its lead to 15, 47-32, and forcing Balza to call a timeout just a 1:36 in. The Ospreys didn’t let up, scoring five more points to bump the lead all the way up to 52-32, bringing the opening run of the second half to 12-2 prior to the FGCU comeback effort.
Rivera continued his strong play at the point guard position with nine points and a team-best nine rebounds. Junior Hunter Miller (Nashville, Tenn./Christ Presbyterian Academy) chipped in with a season-best seven points.
FGCU will stay in Jacksonville to face UNF’s River City rival Jacksonville on Saturday afternoon. The Dolphins (5-1) opened A-Sun action tonight with a 70-61 over Stetson for their fifth win in a row. Gametime is slated for 3:15 p.m. and live audio can be heard on www.FGCUAthletics.com. Voice of the Eagles Tom James will have the call.