DUNK CITY, FLA.- The FGCU Eagles (2-2) came from behind for arguably their biggest win in Alico Arena since knocking off Miami in 2012, taking down South Dakota State (3-1) 84-78 thanks to a 54 point second half Friday night. The Eagles trailed by as many as 13 early and trimmed it to seven before the half and then exploded in the final 20 minutes in front of a raucous FGCU crowd to finish off the six point victory over the team ranked third in the latest College Insider mid-major rankings.
"Really proud of our team, I thought that was a gutty performance" head coach Michael Fly said. "We are young and haven't played together a lot, so to fight back like that against a team like that, I think it shows our competitiveness and grit. We had a couple of veteran guys stepping up when we needed them. We are a strength in numbers team, we had a lot of guys contribute tonight."
FGCU got off to a hot start, scoring on their first three possessions of the night to take an early 6-3 lead, but South Dakota State's hot shooting helped keep them even in a 6-6 game three minutes in.
Christian Carlyle (Jacksonville, Fla./Bishop Kenney HS) drove and scored for FGCU to put them up 10-9 at the first media timeout, but the Jackrabbits responded with an 8-3 run to take their first lead of the night at 17-12.
SDSU remained hot as FGCU cooled and midway through the half, the Jacks extended their lead to the largest of the night at 26-13.
With SDSU star Mike Daum on the bench in foul trouble, the Eagles began to climb back into the game, trimming their deficit to seven as Haanif Cheatham (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Marquette/Pembroke Pines HS) sliced to the bucket and scored two of his 22 on the night with 4:10 to go in the half.
The teams played even through the final four minutes of the period and went to the break with the Jacks on top 37-30.
SDSU seemingly couldn't miss in the first half, shooting 52% from the floor and 50% from deep while FGCU shot 45% overall and just 10% from three. Cheatham led the way with 10 first half points for the Eagles while Carlile had six and Zach Scott (Miami, Fla./Westminster Academy) had five off bench for the Green and Blue.
The Eagles quickly erased their deficit with a pair of Troy Baxter Jr. (Tallahassee, Fla./UNLV/Oldsmar Christian HS) threes and took their first lead since the opening minutes when Cheatham converted an old fashioned three point play to put the Green and Blue in front 41-40.
FGCU continued to pour gas on the fire as Carlyle hit a three from the corner to make it a 45-40 game and send Alico Arena into a frenzy.
A 6-0 Jackrabbit burst flipped the script as SDSU went back up by one with 14:11 to go and from there it was a back and forth tussle between the two.
For the next 10 minutes, it was never more than a one possession game with the teams trading leads six times as they neared the homestretch.
A deep three from Dinero Mercurius (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Daytona State/UTRGV/USF/Faith Baptist Christian) broke a 66-66 tie with just under four minutes remaining, but again the Jacks came back to tie the game and with 2:29 to go, FGCU and SDSU were back to square one, tied at 72.
The play(s) of the game came in a six second stretch with under 1:30 to go as Schadrac Casimir (Samford, Conn./Iona/Trinity Catholic HS) scored on an acrobatic drive to the basket to put the Eagles up two and then picked off the inbounds pass and scored to make it a 76-72 game in favor of the Green and Blue.
After a stop on the defensive end, a floater by Baxter made it a six point game with just 45 seconds to go, but a pair of missed free throws for FGCU and two straight scores by the Jacks had them back to within a pair in just 15 seconds.
The Eagles struggled to ice the game at the line, but their defense stepped up on the other end to keep it a two point game with 16.6 seconds remaining.
With South Dakota State attempting to tie the game to send it to overtime or hit a three to win it, the Eagles most veteran player, fifth year senior Dinero Mercurius came up big, intercepting a pass through the lane and then hitting two free throws to put the game on ice for FGCU as they went on to win 84-78 to the delight of the nearly 4,000 in attendance.
Four Eagles reached double figures in the win, led by Cheatham's 23. Carlyle put together his second straight big effort with 16 and a team best seven rebounds and five assists, while Baxter dropped in 15, and Mercurius had a season best 14.
FGCU was outshot from the field, three point range, and the free throw line in the win, but cleaned up an area they had struggled with all season, turnovers, as they coughed the ball up just nine times while forcing 16 SDSU turnovers on the night.
The Eagles improve to 2-2 with the win and 2-0 at home in Alico Arena while South Dakota State suffers its first loss of the year to fall to 3-1 in their first road contest of the season.
Both teams will take the court again shortly in the Gulf Coast Showcase at Hertz Arena as FGCU squares off against another 20 win team from a season ago in Toledo Monday night at 7:30 while SDSU has a 10 AM tip with Tulane to start the week. The Eagles and Jacks could potentially meet up again next week in the three day tournament while starting on opposite sides of the GCS bracket.