Eagles fall to Hilltoppers, 80-70, in final non-conference game
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – Despite a career-high 25 points from redshirt sophomore Anthony Banks (Lantana, Fla./Santaluces HS), the FGCU men’s basketball team couldn’t quite overcome a double figure first half deficit in a 80-70 non-conference loss to WKU on Monday night at E.A. Diddle Arena.
The loss is the third in a row for the Eagles (6-19), who capped a six-day, three-game road swing tonight. On the flipside, the Hilltoppers were playing their fifth straight home game, as they improved to 12-13 with the win.
Banks’ game-high 25 points came two nights after being held in single digits for the just the third time this season. Banks finished 8-of-15 from the floor and 9-of-10 from the free throw line, while also adding nine rebounds, including six offensive.
Freshman Christophe Varidel (Versoix, Switzerland/Worcester Academy) combined with Banks to supply 41 of the team’s 70 points. Varidel supplied 16 points on 4-of-7 from the three-point arc, reaching double figures for the 13th straight game.
FGCU won most of the statistical battles except from downtown and the assist/turnover ratio, where three players helped WKU knock down 10-of-18 from long range. Sun Belt preseason Player of the Year Sergio Kerusch drilled all four of his treys in the second half en route to 20 points. Sophomore point guard Jamal Crook supplied nine assists to just one turnover to help the Hilltoppers produce more assists than turnovers (15-12).
Joining Kerusch in double figures for WKU was senior forward Juan Pattillo, who had 16 points and a game-high 11 rebounds. Despite Pattillo’s relentlessness on the boards, the Eagles finished with a 38-30 edge on the glass and 15 offensive rebounds. Sophomore Sherwood Brown (Orlando, Fla./Olympia HS) grabbed a career-high eight rebounds, while junior Kevin Cantinol had seven.
FGCU came out of the gates slow, committing eight turnovers by the eight-minute media timeout and allowing WKU to build a 31-15 lead. The Hilltoppers used a 17-5 run from the 13:36 mark that lasted until the 6:55 mark to build the largest lead of the game.
Foul trouble started to strike WKU and FGCU nearly equaled its point total from the first 13 minutes by climbing back into the game with a 12-8 run that cut it to a 33-27 game with 3:26 to play. Banks was the major catalyst during the run, accounting for eight points, including the final six.
With five players with at least two fouls and three on the Hilltoppers’ leading rebounder Pattillo, Varidel brought the Eagles to within four, 37-33, with 28 seconds left on the half with his second three of the period.
WKU answered right back, though, in the final possession of the opening 20 minutes with McDonald drilling his third long rang field goal of the half to give the home team a 40-33 lead at the break. Banks finished the first half with 16 points, the most by an FGCU player in half this season, to help the Blue and Green overcome nine turnovers.
FGCU cut it to a two-possession game on two occasions in the first five minutes of the second half, until a 14-7 run by WKU took its lead from 56-49 (11:42) to 70-56 with 7:33 to play.
Faced with the second-largest deficit of the game, the Eagles climbed back into the game with a 12-1 run that lasted nearly three minutes. Three-pointers from Brown and Varidel on back-to-back possessions highlighted the run that capped with FGCU trailing by three, 71-68, with 4:07 on the clock. The three-point deficit was the Blue and Green’s smallest since the 16:53 mark of the first half.
Unfortunately, the final 4:07 was unkind to the Eagles, as they managed just two points the rest of the way and watched WKU score the next nine points for the 80-70 win.
FGCU will returns to sunny Fort Myers for its next four games beginning with Campbell coming into Alico Arena on Saturday, Feb. 19. Gametime is slated for 5:15 p.m. and is the front part of a doubleheader with the women’s program.