FGCU Ready To Ring In The New Year Against Belmont
Sunday, January 02, 2011

Belmont (10-3, 2-0) vs. FGCU (3-8, 0-2)
Monday, Jan. 3, 2010
CITY: Fort Myers, Fla.
SITE: Alico Arena (4,500)
TIP-OFF: 7:30 p.m. ET
TALENT: Tom James (Play-by-Play)
J. Webb-Horton (Analyst)
SERIES: Belmont leads, 3-2
LAST MEETING: FGCU 85, Belmont 80
Feb. 20, 2010
LAST GAME: IUPUI 76, FGCU 63 - Dec. 27

FGCU will ring in the New Year by opening its Atlantic Sun Conference home schedule by hosting reigning league co-champ Belmont at Alico Arena on Monday evening. The game marks the beginning of a busy month for the Eagles, who will play four conference games in the next eight days and 10 contests in January. FGCU is 1-2 all-time in A-Sun home openers and 6-2 in the first game of the New Year. Oddly enough, the Blue and Green opened the New Year in 2010 with a 66-63 win over Belmont in Nashville. With a win, FGCU can avoid starting 0-3 in A-Sun play for the first time in program history and hand Belmont its first A-Sun loss for the second straight year.

Monday night will be the sixth meeting between FGCU and Belmont with the Bruins leading the all-time series by a slim 3-2 margin. The Eagles swept the season series from Belmont last year, marking just the second time they had take both games against an A-Sun foe in the same year since joining the league in 2007-08. FGCU and Lipscomb were the only two teams to sweep Belmont in 2009-10. During their two wins over Belmont last season, the Eagles averaged 45.5 points in the second half, while the two games were decided by a combined eight points. Senior REED BAKER has reached double figures in three of four career games against the Bruins.

One of the A-Sun's three unbeaten teams in league play, Belmont (2-0) also enters with a conference-best 10 overall wins and ranked No. 22 in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25 poll. The Bruins two losses at Tennessee and loss at Vandy have come by a combined 19 points. As a team, Belmont leads the A-Sun in eight different categories and boasts a roster that features nine players averaging 6.2 points or more en route to a league-high 83.2 points per game. The Bruins' depth is also showcased by 10 players averaging over 15 minutes per game. Belmont has ranked in the top 25 nationally in three-pointers in all but one season since joining the Division I ranks in 1996-97 and are at it again this season with 9.4 trifectas per game - 6th in the nation. The reigning A-Sun Freshman of the Year and preseason All-Conference choice, sophomore Ian Clark leads the Bruins in scoring (11.8). Junior forward Mick Hedgepeth, also a preseason All-Conference selection, posts averages of 11.4 points and a team-best 5.9 rebounds. Belmont, who has reached the NCAA Tournament in 2006, 07 and 08, is led by head coach Rick Byrd who is in his 25th season and ranks 11th among active coaches with 590 career victories.

@ FGCU: 146-108 (9th Season)
Overall: 181-157 (12th Season)
Atlantic Sun: 18-40 (4th Season)
Vs. Belmont: 2-3

Rick Byrd
@ Belmont: 498-276 (25th Season)
Overall: 590-331 (30th Season)
Vs. FGCU: 3-2

Junior MARLON RIVERA earned some recognition from the conference office last Wednesday when he was named the A-Sun Newcomer of the Week. The Santa Fe CC transfer averaged 7.0 points, 6.5 rebounds and 10.0 assists over two games against N.C. Central and IUPUI.

Despite playing just four of their first 10 games at home, the Eagles are 2-2 at Alico Arena and have found their offensive rhythm in a big way. FGCU is averaging 78.5 points per game thanks to shooting 49 percent (118-239) from the field. Senior REED BAKER has reached the 20-point plateau in three games, averaging 21.8 points. Junior MARLON RIVERA has put up huge numbers in his initial season at the friendly confines of Alico with averages of 8.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, 9.5 assists and 2.0 steals. With Rivera's play at the point guard position, FGCU is averaging 17.8 assists at home, while ANTHONY BANKS' 18.5 points have come on a 62 percent shooting clip.

After having successful surgery to repair a broken bone in his right foot over the summer, Atlantic Sun preseason All-Conference choice ANTHONY BANKS is starting to return to form. Not expected to return until late November, Banks has played all 11 games this year, but has picked up his play over the last six games averaging 18.3 points and 7.9 rebounds. Banks has led the team in scoring in five of the seven games with three double-doubles and three 20-point outings.

The inside-out combination of redshirt sophomore forward ANTHONY BANKS and senior guard REED BAKER give FGCU the second-highest scoring duo in the A-Sun. Both have finished in double figures in eight of 11 games and have led the Eagles in scoring 33 of their 40 contests together. For their careers, both have reached double figures in the same game 20 times, while the duo has combined to score 35 or more points six times this season and 40 or more three times.

After making just 29 three-pointers over the first seven games, FGCU has bounced back by making 33 in its last four contests. The Eagles' 10 threes at Toledo and 11 against N.C. Central marked the first time since the last two games of the 2004-05 season that the Blue and Green had made double-digit trifectas in consecutive contests.

Redshirt sophomore ANTHONY BANKS has been on a strict offensive rebounding diet, collecting a staggering 45 offensive boards this season, including nine against ACC foe Miami which equaled his career-best. Banks leads the A-Sun in offensive rebounds per game (4.1). Banks has grabbed five or more offensive rebounds in a game seven times this season and 16 for his career. He ranks eighth in the A-Sun at 6.8 caroms per contest. With five more offensive rebounds, Banks will have 150 for his career.

Junior MARLON RIVERA has taken over the reins of the point guard position with his strong play on both ends of the court. Rivera is one of two players in the A-Sun in the top 15 in assists per game top 5 in rebounds per game and top 5 in steals. The FGCU floor general has led the team in assists nine times and also leads the A-Sun in assists per game at a 5.7 clip thanks to passing out 38 helpers in the last four games. Rivera's 5.9 rebounds per game rank 14th in the A-Sun, while he's third in steals per game (2.0). Rivera also averages 6.7 points and has reached double figures three times.

Along with his scoring prowess, senior REED BAKER has upped his game on the defensive end with 21 steals. A year ago, Baker registered just 25 steals and is just four away from equaling that total. With 9 steals over his last three games, junior MARLON RIVERA has surpassed Baker with 22 steals to rank third in the A-Sun. For his career, Baker has 18 multi-steal games, highlighted by seven against ETSU on Jan. 12, 2009 - the second most in single-game history. Baker nearly equaled his career-high with six at UNF.

Now 11 games into his collegiate career, freshman CHRISTOPHE VARIDEL is starting to feel comfortable in his role off the bench. Over six games off the pine, Varidel is averaging 9.2 points compared to 5.6 points over five games as a starter. Both of Varidel's double figure scoring efforts have come off the bench, including a season-best 16 points at UNF in the A-Sun opener. The Versoix, Switzerland native ranks eighth in the A-Sun with 1.91 three-pointers per game.

Redshirt sophomore ANTHONY BANKS has scored the first point(s) of the game for FGCU a team-best four times this season. Senior REED BAKER and freshman CHASE FIELER have done so twice.

Junior KEVIN CANTINOL made his much-anticipated FGCU debut at No. 2 Ohio State. The 6-foot-9, 253-lb. center came to Fort Myers after spending his first season and a half at the SEC's Ole Miss and due to NCAA four-year transfer rules had to sit out for a year. Cantinol's appearance in the lineup came at the perfect time with junior TIM SNYDER (7.3 ppg, 3.8 rpg) out with a orbital bone fracture. Through four games, Cantinol is averaging 4.3 points and 4.0 boards. His inside presence has helped free up the outside shooting to the tune of 33 threes over the four games.