Winning on the road in college basketball is hard.
With head-turning victories at Ohio State and Memphis last year, UT-Arlington came into this season as the Sun Belt favorite. The Mavericks return almost all key pieces off of a team that proved it could pull off the rare road victory against power conference competition.
Playing their second game in three days Wednesday night, the Mavericks put on a first half offensive clinic against Florida Gulf Coast. UT-Arlington shot 60 percent from the field (including 7-of-13 from three) and committed just two turnovers en route to a 44-31 halftime lead.
But the tables turned in the second half. FGCU put on a stunning display of outside shooting (7-of-8 3FG) that was nonexistent in the first half (1-of-12), and backcourt brilliance from Brandon Goodwin and Zach Johnson (35 points combined on 11-of-16 shooting) carried the Eagles past the Mavericks, 85-72.
For the Mavericks, it wasn’t very different from two nights ago.
UT-Arlington had Minnesota on the ropes Monday night, holding a five point halftime lead. A 22-1 Golden Gopher run in the first ten minutes of the second half sent Minnesota on its way to an 84-67 victory.
On Wednesday night, forward Faith Pope’s basket 58 seconds into the second half gave the Mavericks a 46-31 lead that seemed insurmountable given how UT-Arlington had played in the first half.
But, in an eerie turn of events reminiscent of the Minnesota game, the Mavericks mustered only one field goal over the next eight minutes, and only six points total as the Eagles mounted a furious charge to even the game up at 52.
A Zach Johnson three-pointer 27 seconds later gave FGCU a 55-52 lead that it wouldn’t give up. Johnson converted on a four-point play at the 9:43 mark to extend the lead, part of a 19-point outburst in the second half to give him 24 points on the evening.
UT-Alrington’s backcourt has to carry the load thus far with Maverick head coach Scott Cross easing Hervey’s workload as he comes off a torn left ACL suffered midway through last season.
Jalen Jones scored 23 in the season-opening victory against Texas Southern and had 17 against Minnesota, while Erick Neal has averaged 11 points and had 13 assists through the first two games.
The Mavericks got good work from their bench, with guards Nathan Hawkins and Kaelon Wilson combining for eight points on 3-for-3 shooting, as the backcourt held a 26-19 advantage over FGCU’s guards at halftime.
The Eagles second-half rally was sparked by Johnson, Goodwin and Christian Terrell scoring 17 of FGCU’s first 24 points. The trio combined for 41 points and outscored UT-Arlington’s backcourt by 30 to guide Joe Dooley’s team to its first win of the season.
Here are some additional observations:
- UT-Arlington’s offense runs through Hervey when he’s right. Combinations on the court are probably going to be sorted out when Hervey returns to the starting lineup. Cross went with peculiar combinations particularly in the backcourt in the second half, with freshman DJ Bryant running the point when FGCU made its huge run.
- The Mavericks went away from what worked for them offensively in the first half, particularly taking advantage of switches that were in their favor. The guards did a nice job looking for the big men that had mismatches, and did a nice job penetrating in the lanes and kicking out to perimeter shooters. Five of the seven Maverick threes in the first half were assisted, and good off-the-ball movement was key to getting open looks.
- FGCU did not panic when it got down double figures, and being at home had to help. The Eagles had a five point lead in the early stages of the second half against Florida on Nov. 11th, but were outscored 40-24 after halftime to in a 80-59 loss. The backcourt of Goodwin, Johnson and Terrell rose to the occasion to help the Eagles to their first win of the season without their best player Marc-Eddy Norelia, who still is not ready after breaking his hand in October.
- Expect both of these teams to grow into the season as their star players get healthy. Rotations will look different, and continuity should be better once conference play nears. UT-Arlington (with Hervey working his way back) and FGCU (getting Norelia back into action) both have backcourts that seem to make each the class of their respective leagues.