Luke DeCock

DeCock: The more Miami wins, the better Florida Gulf Coast looks

The more games Miami wins in the ACC, the stranger that result from Nov. 13 looks: Florida Gulf Coast 63, Miami 51. No one in the ACC can beat the Hurricanes, but the Eagles did it comfortably, back in the first week of the season.

Playing without Durand Scott and Reggie Johnson, in front of a standing-room-only crowd for the Eagles’ home opener, the Hurricanes were outscored 17-9 over the final 10 minutes as Florida Gulf Coast did what no ACC team has done yet.

For sophomore forward Eric McKnight, who grew up in north Raleigh and transferred to Florida Gulf Coast from Iowa State, the big win in front of a big crowd exemplified every reason he ended up at the rapidly growing school between Fort Myers and Naples on the west coast of Florida. He scored 14 points and had a team-high eight rebounds, both big reasons the Eagles won the game.

“I just didn’t want to lose that game,” said McKnight, a 6-foot-9 forward who played high school basketball at a prep school in Maryland. “The crowd here was involved in the game; I was involved in that game, and the whole team came together. We really wanted to win that game. It was probably the spark for our season.”

Five days later, Florida Gulf Coast lost at Duke by 21, with McKnight’s mother and other family members in attendance, but the Miami win was a springboard to a very nice season. The Eagles lead the Atlantic Sun at 10-3 and are 18-8 overall, but it’s still hard to fathom how the No. 3 team in the country could lose to an Atlantic Sun team, even on the road, even early, even without Scott and Johnson – from the outside, at least.

“We have good players who expected to win that game,” said Florida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield, a former assistant to Leonard Hamilton at Florida State. “We played there last year, and they beat us. This year, we played them at home and we had a specific game plan to use our strengths, and we executed it. We’re 13-1 at home right now, and we lost an overtime game where we blew a lead.

“We have talented players. We’re not as good as Miami, probably, on a neutral court, but right now we’re playing exceptionally well. We’re very confident no matter who we play, and that particular game we played outstanding defense, we rebounded the ball, and we made enough shots to win.”

As the Hurricanes make their case for the No. 1 ranking, there’s also a transitive case to be made for No. 346. Miami lost to Florida Gulf Coast, which lost to Maine, which lost to 3-21 Binghamton, arguably the second-worst team in Division I behind 0-21 Grambling State. The Hurricanes have only lost twice since, to Arizona and Indiana State in a tournament in Hawaii.

“What Miami’s done is very impressive,” Enfield said. “We knew they were a very talented and experienced team when we played them, and since I coached in the ACC, I also had a feel for their talent level compared to the league. While I expected Miami to do very well, I think 10-0 at this point exceeds everybody’s expectations.”

The Hurricanes keep winning, the Eagles keep winning, and as time goes by, both teams have taken an increasing interest in each other’s progress.

“It’s kind of crazy,” McKnight said. “I’m good friends with a couple of the Miami players. Julian Gamble (from Durham) has been keeping up with me, making sure we haven’t been losing. He doesn’t want them to look bad, and we don’t want to look bad ourselves.”

So far, McKnight hasn’t had to worry about that. Florida Gulf Coast keeps looking better and better.

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