Florida State has too much stuff for FGCU in NCAA opener

ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida Gulf Coast entered its first-round NCAA tournament matchup with Florida State hoping to distance itself from the 2013 “Dunk City” team that put the program on the map.

The 14th-seeded Eagles went on to do that against the No. 3 seed Seminoles — just not in the way they’d hoped.

After jamming home 157 dunks during its first 33 games — nine more than the 2013 squad — FGCU managed two on Thursday, including one on its first possession of the night, in a game that was more memorable for the slams it missed than the ones it made.

Florida State, meanwhile, dialed up nine dunks  and used its impressive length on defense to frustrate the Eagles in an 86-80 win that wasn’t as close as the final score would have you believe.

“They’re Dunk City, but I think our team leads the nation in dunks,” said Florida State freshman star Jonathan Isaac, who scored four of his 17 points on dunks. “That’s what we do. We’re long and athletic, and we dunk the ball, too.”

In addition to junior Brandon Goodwin’s rim-bending miss midway through the second half, FGCU sophomore Zach Johnson had his own posterization attempt blocked by Isaac with 12 seconds left to play, one of nine total blocks among Florida State’s three tallest players — the 6-foot-10 Isaac, 7-foot-1 Michael Ojo and 7-foot-4 Christ Koumadje — on the night.

“To our guys’ defense, it’s hard to simulate what they do,” Florida Gulf Coast coach Joe Dooley said. “You can’t simulate height and length and athleticism like they have. We just sort of never really got into an offensive rhythm.”

Florida State’s size was also a problem on the boards, where it outrebounded Florida Gulf Coast 46-26, and once the Eagles’ tallest player, Demetris Morant, went down with a left foot injury early in the second half, the game was effectively over.

“We said that we’re probably going to have to make eight, nine, 10, 11 3s to be in the game because they’re so big,” said Dooley, whose team went 8-of-28 from 3-point range, including a 4-of-16 mark in the second half. “It’s hard to finish at the rim.

“We’re very good at points in the paint,” he continued, “but attacking the paint against those guys — they played quite a bit of zone in the second half, and we weren’t able to get downhill.”

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Aside from Morant’s dunk to tie the score at 2-2 just 51 seconds into the game, Florida Gulf Coast’s only other dunk came from sophomore guard Rayjon Tucker to cut the Florida State lead to 28-23 with 5:51 left in the first half.

From that point forward, Florida State largely kept the Eagles and their raucous fans in check, but despite FGCU’s second consecutive opening-round tournament exit, the fourth-year coach Dooley said he still sees a bright future for his growing program.

“I think we had a really good year — just a great year with a disappointing end,” Dooley said. “We haven’t lost a game in double figures since early December. We’ve been in every game. We fought. We’ve had games where we looked like we’re dead in the water. We came back. We had games where we should have been beaten badly, and we fought back, and we’re in every game.

“I think it’s something to build on,” he continued. “I do like the pieces we have coming back. I think they’ll be older. We’ll get stronger. I think we’re going to add a couple pieces. I think we’re trying to sustain this thing, I think going forward we’re going to continue to build on this deal.”

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