Spurred by backcourt, FGCU posts impressive season-opening win

Photo courtesy of FGCU Athletic Communications

Courtesy of FGCUAthletics.com

DUNK CITY, Fla. – Behind 21 points from Brandon Goodwin and a career-high 27 from Zach Johnson, the FGCU men’s basketball team posted an impressive 98-87 season-opening victory over Illinois State Saturday afternoon at Alico Arena in front of a sellout crowd.

The matchup pitted the defending ASUN and Missouri Valley champions against each other, and in an unexpected high-scoring affair it was the host Eagles who posted the most points in a season opener in program history.

Johnson (Miami, Fla./Norland HS) scored 14 in the 1st half and 13 in the 2nd half while adding four rebounds and four assists in 39 minutes. Goodwin (Norcross, Ga./UCF/Norcross HS) posted one of his best all-around games as the unanimous ASUN Preseason Player of the Year flirted with a triple-double as he grabbed a game-high-tying eight rebounds and passed out a team-best seven assists.

FGCU shot 49.2 percent (32-65) from the floor, while Illinois State connected at a 50.8-percent rate (33-65). Last year, the Eagles ranked 5th in the nation in field-goal percentage at 49.9, and Illinois State finished 5th in the country in field-goal percentage defense by limiting foes to just 37.9.

In addition to the field-goal percentage performances, FGCU held two key, difference-making statistical advantages. The first came on the glass, as the Eagles – who were 34th in the nation last season in rebound margin – picked up where they left off by rolling to a +24 edge, 48-24, and finishing with a 15-2 edge in second-chance points. Additionally, the Green and Blue marched to the free-throw line 37 times compared with ISU’s 16 trips, making 27 (73 percent) while the Redbirds made seven (44 percent).

The Eagles led the nation in points in the paint last year (41.3 per game), and they continued that on Saturday as they tallied 48 compared with Illinois State’s 34.

“When you play a team this early in the year that’s as skilled as Illinois State, you’re going to put yourself in harm’s way defensively,” said FGCU head coach Joe Dooley of giving up 87 points. “There will definitely be some teachable moments when we look back at the tape. But there’s certainly some good things that we can take from this. We had really good performances up and down the lineup, and almost everyone contributed – especially at the offensive end.”

Leading by just one, 83-82, with a little more than 4 minutes remaining in the game, Christian Terrell hit a transition 3-pointer. Dooley immediately called a timeout, and out of that break, Antravious Simmons (Miami, Fla./VCU/South Miami HS) recorded a steal and pushed ahead to Johnson, who was fouled and made both to extend the lead to six. From there, the Green and Blue led by no fewer than three the rest of the day and closed the game on a 9-1 run.

Terrell (Jacksonville, Fla./Providence HS) finished with 13 points and eight rebounds, and fellow Jax native Christian Carlyle (Jacksonville, Fla./Bishop Kenny HS) tallied 11 points. The sophomore made his first career start and recorded double-digit points against a Division-I opponent for the first time, in addition to securing a career-high eight rebounds.

Redshirt junior transfer Dinero Mercurius (Orlando, Fla./Daytona State/UTRGV/USF/Faith Baptist Christian HS) scored just two points in the 1st half, but finished with 11 on the afternoon. Those nine 2nd-half points came in a 1-minute-and-30-second timeframe as he stepped up and hit three 3-pointers in the span of four FGCU offensive possessions in an important stretch early in the 2nd half.

FGCU’s previous high for points in a season opener was 90 in the program’s first-ever game in 2002-03 versus Puerto Rico-Bayamon. Making the offensive performance even more impressive for the Eagles is that Illinois State – which went 28-7 last season and finished with an RPI of 39 – concluded last year 7th in the nation by limiting opponents to just 61.3 points per game.

FGCU faces a quick turnaround when the Eagles head just outside New York’s capital to face Siena on Monday, Nov. 13, at 7 p.m. The Saints opened their season Friday night at the College of Charleston, falling to the Colonial Athletic Association preseason favorites in overtime, 68-60.

The Eagles defeated Siena at home last year, 73-69, but the Saints – who finished 17-17 – went on to reach the MAAC Championship Final before falling just short to Monmouth, 89-85.

NOTEWORTHY: FGCU is now (76-14, .844 winning percentage) at Alico Arena since the start of the 2012-13 season … the Eagles led at the half, 45-42, and are now an incredible 69-4 under Dooley when leading at intermission … FGCU finished with a 21-3 edge in fastbreak points … attendance was 4,335 – just above Alico’s seating capacity of 4,333.

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