Commentary: Dragan Sekelja and Stefan Moody show potential in FAU men’s basketball’s 72-65 victory over Arkansas State

Sophomore+forward+Kelvin+Penn+hurdles+as+Arkansas+States+defense+attempts+to+block+him.+Photo+by+Michelle+Friswell.

Sophomore forward Kelvin Penn hurdles as Arkansas State’s defense attempts to block him. Photo by Michelle Friswell.

Rolando Rosa

Sophomore forward Kelvin Penn hurdles as Arkansas State’s defense attempts to block him. Photo by Michelle Friswell.

Heading to The Burrow for the first time this year, there were two Owls players I was most intrigued to see:

Stefan Moody and Dragan Sekelja.

For FAU men’s basketball to have any kind of legitimate success this season, these two players are the most crucial. So when the Owls hung on to defeat Arkansas State 72-65 in the final game of an FAU triple header, it was in no small part because of these two.

Sekelja bounced back from a poor game in Thursday’s loss to South Alabama by answering back with six points, seven rebounds, one assist, one block and one steal. Don’t let the modest box score fool you.

The 7-footer’s game transcended his stat totals. His head coach was proud of his resilience after a pedestrian start to the year.

“I think he responded to his performance the other night and his performance so far this year,” Owls head coach Mike Jarvis said. “He told the team the other night that he really felt he had let them down and that if he were a fan watching and he was watching number 3 — big white kid from Croatia play — he would probably tell them that he didn’t really care that much about playing.”

From early on, it was clearly, and painfully, obvious Sekelja was inspired to play harder, even at the expense of spectators around him. At one point early on, he ran the floor on a fast break and leaped into the air for an errant pass attempt, barreling into the lap of a UP photographer as the crowd made audible noises.

She was fine after getting up and gathering herself a few seconds later. Sekelja shook off the collision and was well on his way to showing the emotion and passion lacking from his game through six contests.

An 11-0 spurt at the beginning of the second half introduced The Burrow crowd to the Owls squad I witnessed during training camp.

Fast. Unselfish. And very, very athletic.

FAU was down by six at that point before the onslaught of the Owls. Starting point guard Jackson Trapp, nicknamed the “candyman” after the game by Jarvis, because of the treats he dishes out to teammates, nailed a 3-pointer to start the rally.

Sekelja then continued the proceedings by threading a perfectly placed bounce pass down the middle for a Stefan Moody two-hand jam and finished it off by thumping his chest. On the next defensive possession, Sekelja stuffed a Red Wolves shot and pounded his chest one more time like he was a deranged WWE wrestler.

Finally, Greg Gantt’s 3-pointer gave the Owls the lead with 16:01 left. He had a career-high 29 points for the second straight game.

Jarvis appreciated Sekelja’s superb effort on both ends of the floor.

“He came to prove tonight that he did care about playing and he really wants to play, he wants to play hard. He made a huge difference,” Jarvis said of Sekelja. “I don’t care how many points he scores, he was a presence tonight and that’s what you’re capable of being when you’re 7-foot. He’s got a lot of athletic ability for a kid that big.”

Moody meanwhile is excelling in his new role off the bench. The sixth man isn’t in the doghouse despite opening the season as the starting point guard.

Quite the contrary, actually.

“When Stef [Moody] learns how to play, he’s going to be ridiculous with how good he’s going to be. He’s explosive,”Jarvis said. “And he’s starting to realize we want him to be very aggressive. There will be very few times I will say to him, ‘bad shot.’ He played very hard tonight on both ends.”

Moody ended up with 22 points in 31 minutes. The 5-foot-9 guard is quickly becoming as effective a scorer as Gantt, but the senior shares the secret why the tandem won’t have chemistry issues.

Freshman guard Stefan Moody shows off his skills by slam dunking during Saturday’s victory. Photo by Michelle Friswell.

“One thing about Stef: he’s not selfish at all. If I hit two or three or four in a row he’s going to go right to me,” Gantt said. “And if he hits two or three in a row I’m going right back to him. We kind of feed off each other. Whoever’s hot we give them the ball.“

In the first half, it was Moody that was hot. His 12 points off the pine were more than Arkansas State’s entire bench combined.

Gantt has never had a scorer like Moody before in his time at FAU. It’s going to take the scoring burden off him and allow him to play more freely.

“Playing with him is fun. He can get it going really fast,” Gantt said. “Teams are going to start keying in on him which is going to make it easier for me.”

That’s not to say this was an easy win for the Owls. This team is still coming together and finding its way. Getting outrebounded by three and committing fourteen turnovers, especially three by Moody in crunch time, prove there’s still plenty to improve upon.

Jarvis is always unapologetic after wins. This one was his 55th victory at FAU, giving him the required experience to put things in proper context.

“Here’s what I know: after a bad loss it usually isn’t as bad as you thought and after a good win it usually isn’t as great as you thought. I’m going to watch the film. What we’re going to do is the same thing we did the other night. We’re going to watch every defensive possession,” Jarvis said. “That’s all we’re going to watch. I’m sure that after we watch every defensive possession I’m sure we’re going to tell ourselves we could have played better. Because that’s what wins championships.”

And with a solid point guard and center duo, conference championships, plural, can be had in the next couple seasons.

The Owls hit the road for a meeting with the Stetson Hatters on Thursday, Dec. 6 at 7:00 p.m.