FORT MYERS, Fla. – Justin Cecil’s three-pointer from the left baseline with 22.7 seconds remaining gave Mercer a 48-46 lead and the visiting Bears knocked down both free throws with three tics on the clock to complete a 50-47 comeback win over the FGCU men’s basketball team in an Atlantic Sun meeting on Sunday at Alico Arena.
Mercer held the lead for a total of 41 seconds in the game and trailed by as many 14 in the first half. The Bears limited the Eagles to just 18 points in the second half to climb out of a 29-22 FGCU lead at the break.
In a game that featured no lead changes over the first 37 minutes and 36 seconds, Mercer took its first lead of the game with 1:16 remaining on a jumper by Jeff Smith that made it a 43-42 score in favor of the visitors.
Freshman Christophe Varidel (Versoix, Switzerland/Worcester Academy), who finished with a game-high 15 points, brought the Eagles right back on the very next possession with a runner in the lane to make it 44-43 with 2:07 left.
Another bucket by Smith provided the third lead change in three possessions, 45-44, before junior Tim Snyder (Punta Gorda, Fla./Charlotte/Hillsborough CC) gave FGCU a 46-45 edge with 57 seconds left by making a pair of free throws.
Cecil’s three-pointer proved to be the difference, though, as junior Marlon Rivera (Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico/Sagemont HS/Santa Fe CC) had a chance to tie the game by going to the free throw line with five seconds left. Rivera made the first of two to make it 48-47, but the Eagles were called for a lane violation on the second attempt.
After being fouled by FGCU, Smith made it a 50-47 with a pair of free throws and the Blue and Green’s last attempt to tie the game with 3.1 seconds remaining never connected.
With the loss, FGCU is now 3-13 on the season and 0-7 in the A-Sun, while Mercer improves to 5-13 overall and 2-5 in the conference.
For the third straight game, Varidel’s 15 points led FGCU as the freshman made 6-of-14 from the field, including a trio of three-pointers. Redshirt sophomore Anthony Banks (Lantana, Fla./Santaluces HS) chipped in with 12 points and eight rebounds, and in the process became FGCU’s all-time leader in offensive boards with 161 in just 45 career games.
Neither team had any kind of offensive rhythm, as the Eagles shot 35 percent (16-46) and Mercer finished with a 31 percent (18-59) clip. FGCU did hold a 43-35 edge on the glass thanks in part to a game and career-high nine rebounds from Snyder, but were hurt by 20 turnovers.
Smith, who scored six points over the final 2:24, was Mercer’s only double figure scorer with 13 points and eight rebounds.
Coming off a season-best 18-point performance, Varidel scored early and often for the Eagles as they jumped out a 12-4 lead, highlighted by seven straight points to begin the contest. Varidel scored eight points on a pair of three-pointers during the run, while Snyder was all over the court with four points, five boards and a block.
Points came at a premium for the remainder of the first half as the two teams combined for just 35 points over the final 13 minutes. The Eagles were able to build a 14-point lead, 28-14, with 3:16 left on the clock on Varidel’s third triple of the half.
Mercer cut into the FGCU by scoring the final six points to make it a 29-22 game at the break in favor of the Blue and Green. The Bears shot a dismal 22 percent (7-32) from the floor over the opening 20 minutes, while the Eagles were hampered by 13 turnovers.
An opening possession bucket by junior Kevin Cantinol (Guadeloupe, French West Indies/Calvary Christian/Ole Miss) stretched the FGCU lead to 31-22 to start the second half, but Mercer retaliated with a 9-1 run to even-up the score at 32-32 with 15:31 remaining. It was the first tie of the game since the score was 0-0.
Offensive woes struck for both teams, but the Eagles were able to gut out five straight points to hold a 37-32 lead with 9:16 on the clock. FGCU created the separation by playing good defense, holding Mercer without a field goal for over seven minutes.
Despite not scoring, Mercer was able to fight back and tie the game at 39-39 and 41-41, leading to the dramatic finish.
FGCU will now head north to Buies Creek, N.C. to take on A-Sun foe Campbell on Thursday, Jan. 20 at 7:00 p..m.