Scouting Florida Gulf Coast: A Blown Lead, But a Win Vs. North Florida

Lance King

Last season, Florida Gulf Coast went to the championship game in the Atlantic Sun tournament on the back of its 3-point shooting. Given its performance this year, they should make it back, but it won't be because of long-range shooting.

This was probably not the game that Florida Gulf Coast would like someone to see if they were wanting a "better look" at the team. Leave aside the issues with the Atlantic Sun's free stream of the game that kept jumping and left me waiting for the first half of the first half.

You don't want someone watching when you blow a 19-point cushion, and that is exactly what the Eagles did against North Florida on Monday night.

The difference between the first half -- when the Eagles pulled ahead -- and the second half -- when the Ospreys came all the way back to take a six-point lead -- was really the concentration on shutting out Sherwood Brown.

The senior guard scored 14 points, but hit a dry spell to begin the second half and the Eagles couldn't compensate for his loss in production. But ignore that. The reason for watching Florida Gulf Coast wasn't to see them win -- which they ultimately did 75-73, but to watch how they play and what has them at 3-1 in the conference now, and the top rated team from the Atlantic Sun in the MRI.

The answer was a little confusing as the Eagles are not winning they way they won last season. Last year, they shot the 3-ball, and it worked for them, finishing hitting 37.3 percent from long range, good enough for No. 59 in the country. They were prolific 3-point shooters, in the top 100 overall in terms of percentage of field goal attempts that came from behind the arc.

That was not the Eagles team that took the floor Monday night. Maybe it was a function of the big lead that kept them from shooting from three, but their offensive game as a whole has moved away from that. They are now just average in the percentage of their shots that they take from 3-point range. And they are much worse at making them this season: 31.5 percent, down to No. 240 in the country.

What was clear though was that this team could run its own version of the Princeton offense -- without the slow down component -- very well. What I saw were plenty of backdoor cuts, headlined by Brown and Chase Fieler.

What I saw was a clinic in passing the ball and ball control. The Eagles were patient and passed until they could get the open man near the hoop. They passed until they could get the shot. They didn't rush anything, but they still played at a good pace overall.

So there were a lot of feeds inside, and a lot of layups, helped by Brett Comer's seven assists (he should never shoot the ball for this team by the way). And there was a decent night by Eric McKnight, who definitely held the height and reach advantage at 6-9 against the Ospreys.

On the defensive end, the Eagles got the pressure when they needed it. Double teams near the time line led to turnovers and the increased pressure was more than North Florida could handle. That is why they ended up turning over the ball 20 percent of the time against the Gulf Coast pressure.

Overall, I walked away impressed, which is shocking given the way they so easily lost the lead. But this was a sound fundamental team. The speed at which they move the ball and move themselves is impressive and could take advantage of a slower zone-oriented offense. Plus with McKnight's size inside, they have an advantage over most of the teams they will face in the A-Sun.

I wouldn't be surprised to see the Eagles run to the championship game of the conference tournament again. But how they will do will largely depend on how they combat USC Upstate's Torrey Craig -- their likely opponent and its best player. They will have a chance to give a preview of that Thursday night on the road against the Spartans.

Maybe this time Florida Gulf Coast will have a better showing under these watchful eyes.

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