FORT MYERS, Fla. – Led by 22 points from Kelvin McConnell and 21 points from Markeith Cummings, Kennesaw State outlasted FGCU 81-70 on Friday night in an Atlantic Sun showdown at Alico Arena.
The Owls shot a solid 51 percent (29-57) from the field, but the difference came from beyond the arc where KSU knocked down 10 three-pointers (10-24), while the Eagles were 5-of-16. Six of Kennesaw State’s 10 three-pointers came from McConnell, including four in the second half where he had 14 points.
The loss slips FGCU’s overall record 3-12 on the season and 0-7 in the A-Sun. Kennesaw State, who defeated ACC foe Georgia Tech earlier the year, ran its record to 4-12 and 2-4 in the league with the win.
Making his first start since Dec. 4 at Jacksonville, freshman Christophe Varidel (Versoix, Switzerland/Worcester Academy) scored a season-high 18 points on 7-of-16 from the field, highlighted by four three-pointers. Varidel is averaging 14 points over his last three games, drilling four threes in each contest.
Redshirt sophomore Anthony Banks (Lantana, Fla./Santaluces HS) battled foul trouble to produce 15 points and six rebounds. Included in his six boards were four offensive caroms to give him 158 for his career, just one shy of equaling the school record. The A-Sun leader in assists, junior Marlon Rivera (Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico/Sagemont HS/Santa Fe CC) filled up the stat sheet with 10 points, eight rebounds and nine assists over 37 minutes.
Beside three-point makes, the teams produced fairly identical numbers. FGCU shot 44 percent (26-59) from the floor, as both teams grabbed 15 offensive boards, but the Eagles turned theirs into 17 second chance points compared to nine by the Owls. The battle in the paint also came out at an even 34-34 tie.
McConnell and Cummings led four players in double figures for Kennesaw State, marking the third time a pair of players has reached 20 points in the same game for the Owls. Sophomore LaDaris Green returned from his one game absence and came off the bench for 14 points and 13 rebounds.
There was no shortage of points over the first five minutes of the game, as FGCU took a 19-16 lead into the first media timeout. During the wild opening stretch, the Eagles trailed by a 10-5 margin, but then rattled-off a 14-6 spurt to take the lead thanks to 8-of-12 shooting from the field.
The FGCU lead reached as high as eight, 30-22, with 9:53 left in the first when sophomore Hunter Miller (Nashville, Tenn./Christ Presbyterian Academy) drilled a three-pointer from the right baseline. After being limited to just 16 points in the last two games, Banks had 10 of the Blue and Green’s first 25 points.
Kennesaw State turned the eight-point FGCU lead into a 39-34 edge of their own with just under three minutes left in the half thanks to a 17-4 run that saw the Owls score on eight of their 12 possessions over the seven-minute span.
The Eagles regained the lead, 40-39, on a layup by junior Tim Snyder (Punta Gorda, Fla./Charlotte HS/Hillsborough CC) with 1:18 remaining, but Kennesaw supplied the seventh and final lead change of the first half by scoring the last four points to take a 43-40 lead into the locker room. The 40 first half points were the most by FGCU this season, scoring 24 in the paint.
Behind five points from Banks and a three from Varidel, FGCU used an 8-3 run out of the gates in the final frame to regain the lead, at 48-46.
Four straight turnovers quickly put a halt to the Blue and Green’s momentum, though, as Kennesaw parlayed the Eagles’ miscues into an 11-2 scoring streak of its own to take a 57-50 lead with 12:51 remaining.
Back-to-back three-pointers by Varidel at the 4:05 mark and 3:19 mark, respectively, cut what was a double-digit Owl lead down to two possessions, at 73-67. Unfortunately, for the Eagles, it was close as they could come.
Junior forward Kevin Cantinol (Guadeloupe, French West Indies/Calvary Christian/Ole Miss) along with classmate and fellow big man Snyder chipped in with nine points and eight points, respectively. Combined with Banks, the starting frontcourt trio supplied 32 points and 15 rebounds.
FGCU will be back in action on Sunday, Feb. 16 with a matinee contest at Alico Arena against Mercer. Tip time is slated for 2:05 p.m.