Florida Gulf Coast was inbounding underneath its own basket when it caught the Owls’ defense flat-footed. A single, uncontested 30-foot pass got the ball to Chase Fieler, who then turned, took one dribble and lofted a half-court lob pass to Eric McKnight for a rim-rattling dunk.
The sequence took maybe 5 seconds, but it took Lallathin less than that to send five new players to the scorer’s table.
“Since I’ve been in charge, it’s the worst game we’ve played,” Lallathin said after Florida Gulf Coast beat Kennesaw State 83-62 at the KSU Convocation Center.
The loss dropped Lallathin’s record to 1-6 since assuming coaching duties for Lewis Preston, who took a leave of absence for health and personal reasons Jan. 2.
The Owls dropped to 4-18 overall, and 1-8 in the Atlantic Sun. With nine games to play, they are last place in the conference by two games, and three games out of the eighth and final A-Sun tournament berth.
“We’re going to find guys that want to play,” Lallathin said, adding that changes would be considered to the starting lineup. “Me, the coaches and managers could go out there and get beat by 20 by Florida Gulf Coast.”
The Eagles (13-9, 7-2), who became the NCAA tournament darlings a year ago by becoming the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16, scored the first eight points of the game and never trailed.
The unit that became known as “Dunk City” last season shot 53.6 percent (30-for-56) from the field for the game, including 62.1 percent (18-for-29) from the floor in the first half. Florida Gulf Coast was 20-of-22 from the free-throw line and outscored Kennesaw State 42-24 in the paint, including seven dunks.
It was a performance the Owls had no chance to match.
Kennesaw State shot only 35.8 percent (19-for-53) from the floor and 59.4 percent (19-of-32) from the line.
Sophomore center Willy Kouassi had a career-high 15 points with six rebounds, but the other four starters — Andrew Osemhen, Delbert Love, Myles Hamilton and Orlando Coleman — were a combined 2-for-16 from the field. Coleman, who came into the game as the Owls’ second-leading scorer at 10.8 points per game, was held scoreless and played only 15 minutes.
Lost in the starters’ struggles were good performances from reserves Nigel Pruitt and Yonel Brown. Pruitt made a pair of 3-pointers and scored 15 points, while Brown added 11 points.
No other Owl scored more than five.
After trailing 8-0 early, Kennesaw State managed to cut the lead to four three times in the first half. The final time came on a 3-pointer by Brown that made the score 28-24 with 8:49 to play.
But Fieler answered for Florida Gulf Coast, scoring the game’s next nine points in just under 1:30 on two free throws, a 3-pointer, a layup and a jumper in the lane.
“Chase Fieler is an all-league player, and we let him get in a cruise position,” Lallathin said.
Fieler’s spurt put the Eagles up 12, and the closest Kennesaw State could get the rest of the way was seven points.
Fieler scored a game-high 24 points for Florida Gulf Coast, with Bernard Thompson adding 16, Brett Comer 15 and Nate Hicks 10.