The 2020-21 FGCU men’s basketball team makes no excuses.
The Eagles didn’t get it done in the postseason – losing to North Alabama in the semifinals of the ASUN Tournament in early March – and fell achingly short yet again of the destination that all in the program make clear is still everyone’s expectation: the NCAA Tournament.
But the Eagles also made another thing very clear following a maddeningly erratic campaign plagued by full-scale shutdowns for positive COVID-19 test results. Despite missing considerably more practice and games than all other league peers, FGCU still made significant strides. And the Eagles expect to do so again next season.
“There were teams this year (nationwide) that allowed the coronavirus to wreck them, in terms of their record, their performance, their buy-in, and that was not this team,” said third-year Eagles coach Michael Fly, the long-time former FGCU assistant. “At the beginning of the season we all had expectations within the program. We thought we had a team to be playing (in the ASUN final), and we didn’t get there. But there were a ton of takeaways in terms of player development, growth as a program and looking to the future.”
The final tally was a 10-8 record – up from 10-22 in 2019-20 and 14-18 in Fly’s debut season – and a 4-5 record in ASUN play. Fourteen games were wiped out by coronavirus, including seven of 16 regular-season league games.
In the postseason, sixth-seeded FGCU showed the team they knew they could be, going on a 60-20 scoring explosion spanning the first and second halves of a 72-60 defeat of third-seeded, preseason league favorite Lipscomb in the ASUN quarter finals.
A night later, though, despite beating North Alabama twice in the regular season, FGCU could not slow the fifth- seeded Lions, who shot 11-for-21 on 3-pointers in a 96-81 victory. Top-seeded Liberty beat North Alabama 79-75 in the final two days later for its third consecutive ASUN Tournament title since joining the league in 2018.
“We beat Lipscomb, so there’s no excuses,” said FGCU junior guard Caleb Catto, second on the team in scoring with 13.3 points a game. “We just didn’t perform to our capability.”
The Eagles won’t blame a staggering 28 days of lost game and practice time – far more than all league peers – in the second half of the season due to positive coronavirus tests.
But the 14-day shutdowns in January and February halted the rhythm the Eagles had been developing. FGCU had won three of four games, including a 66-62 victory at Miami, prior to an early January stoppage, and four of six ASUN games before the second stoppage.
Despite film study and what limited activities the Eagles were permitted while halted, they looked like a team without much cohesion in their first games back, losing a pair of weekend games to Bellarmine in mid-January and at Kennesaw State to close the regular season.
“You could see both times we resumed it wasn’t the prettiest basketball,” Catto said. “It takes you a game or two to get back in some sort of rhythm.”
The result was often uncertainty over how much poor showings were the result of the normal ebbs and flows of basketball and how much resulted from rust and unfamiliarity.
“In a normal year we’re telling them to get to know each other, spend more time together,” Fly said. “This season we’re telling them to stay as far apart from each other as you can. This year was a hard year to know what was real and what wasn’t.”
Regardless, the Eagles are eager to show what a multi-year rebuilding effort can produce next season given an uninterrupted campaign and strong returning player rotation.
That includes Catto, who was ninth in the league in 3-point percentage at 39.2; sophomore guard Cyrus Largie, who led FGCU with 13.4 points a game and led all ASUN guards in shooting accuracy at 55 percent; sophomore forward Dakota Rivers, whose 1.9 blocks a game in just 17.1 minutes a game easily led the ASUN; and freshman point guard Luis Rolon, who led the league in assists per game and steals per game.
“This is going to be the strongest group of returners that we’ve had in a long time,” Fly said. “We just want to be able to play our basketball season.”