Nearly one calendar year has passed since Florida Gulf Coast stormed into UNF Arena and blasted the top-seeded North Florida Ospreys by a stunning 33 points in the 2016 Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament semifinals.
The fourth-seeded Eagles went on to clip Stetson in overtime in the championship game on their way to the NCAA Tournament and a victory in the First Four against Fairleigh Dickinson.
The two sides will match up again, this time in the title game, after each took care of business Thursday evening in the semifinals.
Florida Gulf Coast 74, Kennesaw State 62
The top-seeded Eagles squared off with Kennesaw State, who upset USC Upstate in the quarterfinals, and, as expected, FGCU went early and often inside to big men Demetris Morant and Marc-Eddy Norelia.
The two each scored eight points in the first half, but leading scorer Brandon Goodwin led the way with 12 points, as the Eagles took a 34-31 lead at the break.
The Owls then surrendered the first six points of the second half, and struggled to get production outside of their backcourt tandem of Kendrick Ray and Nick Masterson, who had combined for 20 of Kennesaw State’s 31 first-half points.
A Ray three-pointer cut the lead to 46-39 with just over 13 minutes to go, but back-to-back treys from Goodwin and Rayjon Tucker stretched the FGCU lead back to 13. The Eagles never looked back.
Goodwin finished the night with 28 points, one off his season high, and had an impressive one-hand flush on the break — a welcome sign after he fell hard on his hip in Monday’s quarterfinal against Stetson.
The 74-62 victory sends the Eagles into their fifth championship game in six years since becoming Division I eligible as a member of the Atlantic Sun.
North Florida 91, Lipscomb 85
One of the more anticipated matchups that the quarterfinals could have spit out came to fruition as North Florida met Lipscomb in Thursday’s other semifinal.
The Ospreys had taken care of the Bison in both regular season meetings, with star point guard Dallas Moore having his way each outing. FIist he scored 36 at home against Lipscomb, then poured on 39 points in Nashville two weeks ago.
With much of the emphasis on Moore, the Ospreys used a balanced shooting barrage from the perimeter to take control in the first half.
The two teams combined to make eight threes in the first five minutes, five from North Florida and three from Lipscomb, before either team scored from inside the arc.
After a Garrison Mathews three tied the game at 28 with 5:31 remaining in the half, the Ospreys went on a 17-4 run to finish the first half. That run came with the help of triples by Moore, Aaron Horne, and Aaron Bodager, as North Florida led 45-32.
Lipscomb had no answers to slow the perimeter shooting of the Ospreys, as the Bison could draw no closer than seven.
North Florida made 16 of 24 from the outside, with Bodager hitting five of those and Garrett Sams converting on all four of his attempts.
All eight Ospreys who played scored at least six points, with Moore leading the way with 18.
Look Ahead to Sunday
The Eagles swept the Ospreys in the regular season, with both matchups taking place in a six-day span back in the final week of January.
Goodwin’s late three with 34 seconds remaining broke an 80-80 game in Jacksonville to lift the Eagles, despite Moore’s 32-point effort.
In Fort Myers, the Eagles had a much easier time, as Goodwin again was the star of the show. He scored a season-high 29 points and Florida Gulf Coast won 74-59, after leading by only two at halftime.
It might be hard for North Florida to duplicate its hot shooting night, but a veteran-laden team paced by Moore will not be afraid of what will be a raucous Alico Arena crowd on Sunday. The championship game will tip at 3 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN.