Carlyle, Baxter’s career nights not enough in FGCU loss to No. 10 Michigan State

FGCU Eagles forward Troy Baxter Jr. (1) defends Michigan State’s Nick Ward (44) during first half action at the Breslin Center. (Photo: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports)

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EAST LANSING, MICH.- The FGCU Eagles (1-2) squared off against the No. 10 Michigan State Spartans (1-1) Sunday night in the Breslin Center and got 20 points apiece from Christian Carlyle and Troy Baxter Jr., career highs for both, but it wasn’t enough as the Spartans rolled to a 106-82 win.

“I didn’t think we were competitive enough on the defensive end tonight” head coach Michael Fly said. “To have 22 assists and only 14 turnovers and to still lose by 24, that points towards a problem on the other side of the ball. You just have to play better defensively and rebound better than we did if you are going to win a game like that, and we knew that coming into tonight.”

In front of a crowd of nearly 15,000, the Eagles got off to a hot start as Baxter (Tallahassee, Fla./UNLV/Oldsmar Christian), drawing his first start of the season, scored seven points in the first 2:15 to force a Michigan State timeout with FGCU in front 10-6.

But just like they have seen happen in their first two games of the year, the Eagles faucet quickly turned off. This time it stayed off for a while, as the Spartans went on a 16-0 run over a 4:30 scoreless drought for FGCU to flip the script on the scoreboard and give Michigan State a 22-10 advantage.

After a three from Schadrac Casimir (Samford, Conn./Iona/Trinity Catholic) stopped the Michigan State run, the Spartans quickly packed on five more quick ones to build their lead to 27-13 with 12:16 to go in the half.

The Eagles strung together a few quality possessions on the offensive side of the ball, but Michigan State had their way on the other side as well. Without an answer from FGCU’s defense, the Spartans slowly pushed their lead towards the 20 point mark before taking their largest lead to that point in the game with just under four minutes to go when they went in front 51-28.

Moments later, just after scoring his eighth point of the first half, FGCU guard Haanif Cheatham (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Marquette/Pembroke Pines) was called for a flagrant two foul during a rebound, which disqualified him from the remainder of the contest and forced the Eagles to adjust their gameplan on the offensive end.

The game went to the half with Michigan State leading 59-35. The Eagles shot just 39% in the half and 36% from the three point line after the hot start. On the other side, the Spartans shot 50% overall and 44% from three in the period. Michigan State outrebounded the Eagles 30-10 in the first half, including 11 offensive rebounds for the Spartans. Individually for FGCU Baxter led the way with 10 points in the half, while Cheatham added eight in his 13 minutes of work.

Michigan State built the lead up to 27 early in the second half before FGCU made a quiet push to get back into the game.

Decardo Day (Jackson, Miss/Iowa Western/Southern Utah/Callaway HS) sliced to the bucket on back to back plays for four quick points and Christian Carlyle (Jacksonville, Fla./Bishop Kenney HS) knocked down a pair of free throws to start his career second half to make it a 16 point game at 69-53.

But as soon as FGCU looked like they had a chance to make a game of it, the Spartans responded with a quick 7-2 run to push their lead back past 20 with just over 12 minutes to go.

From that point on, it was nearly literally all Baxter and Carlyle for the Eagles as the duo scored 27 of FGCU’s next 28 points into the waning moments of the game, but again the Green and Blue couldn’t slow down Sparty as Michigan State hit a late three to put an exclamation point on a 106-82 win to put an end to the Eagles night.

FGCU had a big half offensively in the second, shooting 52% from the field and 3-5 from three to play the Spartans even 47-47 in the final 20 minutes.

Overall the Eagles shot 45% from the field and 42% from deep, but Michigan State shot 53% on the night and poured in 64 points in the paint to come away with the 24 point win. The toughest number for FGCU fans to swallow at the end of the night was on the glass where the Spartans outrebounded the Eagles 49-25 including 20 offensive rebounds that turned into 23 points.

Individually the Eagles were led by Baxter and Carlyle who each scored career highs of 20. For Carlyle, 18 of the 20 came in the second half. Carlyle and Brady Ernst (Clinton, Iowa/Indian Hills/Iowa State/Clinton HS) shared the team lead with five rebounds while Day dished out a career best seven assists in the defeat.

Nick Ward led Michigan State with a game high 25 points and 11 rebounds while Joshua Langford also dialed up a double-double with 18 points and 10 boards.

The Eagles drop to 1-2 with the loss while #10 Michigan State improves to 1-1 after a season opening loss to #1 Kansas Tuesday.

The road doesn’t get any easier for FGCU next time out as they will take on 2018 NCAA Tournament team and 3-0 South Dakota State, who is ranked as high as #3 in preseason Mid-Major Top 25 polls. The Eagles and Jackrabbits will go head to head Friday in Alico Arena in an 8 PM tip after the FGCU women’s 5 PM tip against FIU.

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