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FGCU Men’s Basketball stays for Holiday Tournament, Women to Puerto Rico

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Florida Gulf Coast Eagles center Kevin Samuel (21) celebrates during the second half of the NCAA men’s basketball game between the Rhode Island Rams and the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021, at Alico Arena in Fort Myers, Fla. FGCU defeated Rhode Island 67-66.

The FGCU women travel out to the country after Thanksgiving while their male counterparts stay at home.

Both units though had what should have been an enjoyable holiday, coming off victories.

For their second win in a row, they defeated Rhode Island by 67 points on Tuesday at Alico Arena. It was also the first time this season that they had defeated a Division I opponent.

The women defeated Fairfield in Orlando’s second round of the ASUN/MAAC Challenge. They were then rewarded with their first-ever appearance in The Associated Press Top 25 on Tuesday.

From Friday to Sunday, the men will play in three consecutive home games at Hilton Garden Inn FGCU Invitational.

Western Michigan (3-3) is opening the game on Friday, 7:05 p.m. It was ninth in the Mid-American Conference. This team is fresh off an Iowa 48-point defeat. Southeastern Louisiana (3-2), who was third in Southland selections, will play the Eagles on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. The finale is at  6 p.m. Sunday against Purdue Fort Wayne (2-1), which was picked ninth in the Horizon League, and lost at Minnesota by 29 on Nov. 19.

More:The 3 things you should know about college basketball after FGCU’s win by one over Rhode Island

More:Karl Smesko (FGCU) wins over Kim Mulkey (LSU), in the showdown of women’s basketball coach.

More:USC, Andy Enfield and FGCU celebrate Dunk City with men’s basketball

Tavian Dunn Martin, a Duquesne transfer, made big plays in victory over Rhode Island. With three seconds remaining, the Eagles were down one and he finished with 26 points. He was able to make both free throws, and FGCU prevailed.

Michael Fly, FGCU’s men’s coach, said “Tavian is just a player,” “You can’t tell him he’s — I’ll say 5-8 to be nice to him — but you can’t tell him that. “He has the heart of an lion.”

Dunn Martin had 34 goals in his Eagles debut loss to Loyola Chicago. However, Dunn Martin came back with another impressive game point-wise against Rams.

Dunn-Martin stated, “I’d say it’s my team,” after winning the URI. “They trust me to make the shots. They have faith in me that I will make play at the end. I am going to try my best to ensure I make good plays for myself and my team.

FGCU is the favorite in each of these games.

“I feel like it gives us a lot of confidence,” Dunn-Martin said of the URI victory. That’s an Atlantic 10 team. They’re a great team. I have played with them four times. They can be very tough to beat. Our guys showed faith and determination to win.

“It’s going on, and I feel it’s going forward. We’ll continue improving.”

Caleb Catto was a senior and made three huge 3-pointers in Rhode Island’s first half.

He stated, “I think collectively as an organization in the locker-room, we know all the games on the schedule.” We thought we could start something with Rhode Island this week, then build upon that next week.

This week is full of games. We’ve got Friday-Saturday-Sunday. This week, we should be able to take care business and score four quality wins.

Fly believes that Catto and five Division I Transfers with lots of prior playing time will lead this group.

An year ago the Eagles defeated Miami to win their first road victory against a Power 5 Team. They then lost by 16 points at home to FIU.

Fly explained, “What we can’t do now is to come out against Western Michigan not being ready for play.”  Last year, we experienced it. We had a great win against Miami, and we showed up against a good FIU team not ready to go. This will be my greatest challenge. ‘Hey, tonight’s awesome. Have fun tonight. Enjoy tonight.

These women have done more than take care of business. Already, LSU won on the road and Temple beat at home. Fairfield and Manhattan were swept in Fairfield after they trailed early.

“We played two good teams, and every time you get a chance to play good teams you’re going to learn something about yourself,” FGCU women’s coach Karl Smesko said. “I really like the way we played at different stretches of the game. Our offensive play was very explosive. It’s just a matter of being more consistent defensively and sticking to our game plan.

At 5:45 p.m. on Friday and Saturday respectively, the Eagles (5-0), will play Tennessee Tech or Saint Louis in San Juan Shootout.

Smesko stated, “We are playing two great teams again.” “We will see if there are any lessons to be learned from this weekend. We can improve and make it a better Thanksgiving.

FGCU's Kierstan Bell (1) shoots the ball during the FGCU women's basketball game against FMU on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021 at the Alico Arena in Fort Myers, Fla.

FGCU already had Kierstan Bell, T.K. Morehouse, along with several key players from the 26-3 team last year, were already at FGCU. However, four DI transfers, including Kendall Spray of Clemson have only added to that list. Spray’s 3-point shooting is 64.1%, 25 of 39.

Smesko declared, “Spray’s been exceptional to begin the year.” Her shooting is exceptional, but she’s contributing in so many different ways. She’s defending. She’s rebounding. She makes good ball decisions. She really is at an outstanding level of play.”

Bell is back to her best, scoring 26.6 points per game and grabbing 9.6 rebounds. Her stats include 13 assists, 10 steals and 8 blocks.

Smesko declared, “She’s been outstanding so far this season.” His scoring abilities are endless. Her rebounding ability is also a benefit. “She was one the top players in the country last season and is better this year.”

Greg Hardwig, a sports journalist for The News-Press and Naples Daily News is Greg Hardwig. Follow him on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter: @NDN_Ghardwig, email him at [email protected] Support local journalism with this special subscription offer at https://cm.naplesnews.com/specialoffer/

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