Kennesaw State let one slip away in their Atlantic Sun Conference opener against Florida Gulf Coast after playing with a lead for much of the second half and settled for a 68-59 loss at the KSU Convocation Center.
Kennesaw State is still seeking its first conference victory under second-year coach Lewis Preston.
Delbert Love led Kennesaw State with 16 points, doing the bulk of his damage in the first half to put the Owls in front 36-35. Brandon Dawson scored 12 points off the bench. Aaron Anderson had a double-double of 10 points and 13 rebounds and Markeith Cummings added 11.
The Owls clinged to leads of three and four points for much of the second half, but came up short on opportunities to extend those leads, which included missed free throws.
“I thought the effort was there for about 31 minutes,” Preston said. “Then for about 11 minutes of the second half, Florida Gulf Coast stepped up and made shots, and we had open looks but couldn’t get them down.”
It was all Florida Gulf Coast after Anderson tipped in a Nigel Pruitt miss with 7:13 left in the game to give Kennesaw State a 50-48 lead. The Eagles responded by scoring 10 unanswered points to seize control.
Florida Gulf Coast’s run started with back-to-back 3-pointers by Bernard Thompson and Sherwood Brown, giving the Eagles a four-point lead and prompting Preston to call timeout. Then the Eagles continued their run when Brett Comer hit an uncontested layup and Chase Fieler put back a Thompson miss to build a 58-50 lead.
“I think those back-to-back 3-pointers took us out of it,” Preston said. “Of all the sophomores (in the A-Sun), I think Thompson is the best player in our league. We will continue to get better and work on our game.”
Even after the momentum shift, the Owls had chances to get back in it but came up short.
Jordan Montgomery had a chance to make a one-possession game but missed two of his three free throw attempts after getting fouled behind the 3-point line. The Owls were called for a shot-clock violation with 2 minutes left and the Eagles capitalized to extend their lead to nine.
Love hit a desperation 3-pointer late to get Kennesaw State to within six, but the Eagles outshot the Owls at the free throw line to preserve their lead.
“We settled down and showed maturity by getting stops on the defensive end,” Florida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield said. “Kennesaw played a great game. They were very aggressive and put us on our heals at the half.”
The Owls took over the first half after falling behind 21-5 in the first 8 minutes of the game. Love hit timely 3-pointers to get them back into it, including the one that tied the game at 35-all, and Dawson contributed to Kennesaw State’s rally with eight points inside the paint.