BUIES CREEK, N.C. – Led by four players in double figures and a 14-of-18 night at the free throw line, the FGCU men’s basketball team picked up its first Atlantic Sun win of the season with a 68-66 victory at Campbell Thursday evening at Gore Arena.
The win snaps a six-game losing streak for the Eagles, who move to 4-13 on the year and 1-7 in the A-Sun. Campbell, who owns a road win over SEC foe Auburn this season, evens its overall record at 9-9 with the loss and 3-6 in the conference.
“This was a real gutsy effort by all of our guys and I was really impressed by the play of our younger players,” said head coach Dave Balza. “Our defensive intensity was crucial in the second half and it allowed us to come away with a big stop in the final seconds. We’ve worked hard at getting better all season and after a tough loss on Sunday, it’s good to get a win.”
Redshirt sophomore Anthony Banks (Lantana, Fla./Santaluces HS) led all scorers with 19 points, as the Eagles finished with four players in double figures for the third time this year. Banks also collected six rebounds, including four offensive, to help the Eagles grab a total of 15 offensive caroms en route to a 14-7 edge in second chance points.
The freshmen duo of Christophe Varidel (Versoix, Switzerland/Worcester Academy) and Chase Fieler (Parkersburg, W. Va./Parkersburg South) scored 16 points and 14 points, respectively. Varidel reached double figures for the fifth straight game by drilling a trio of three-pointers with four rebounds and three assists. Fieler scored his season-high 14 points off the bench with seven rebounds and three assists.
The glairing difference in the game came at the charity stripe where the opportunistic Eagles made 14-of-18 compared to the Camels making just 7-of-14. During a crucial push at the end of the first half, FGCU made all seven of its free throw attempts to take a 43-38 lead at the half.
For the game, FGCU shot 42 percent (24-57) from the floor while the Camels knocked down 48 percent (26-54) from the field. Both teams finished with positive assist-to-turnover ratios, as four different Eagles had three or more helpers.
Junior guard Lorne Merthie led Campbell with 18 points on six three-pointers. Fellow junior Eric Griffin was active on both ends of the floor with 17 points, eight boards and four blocks. Senior Junard Hartley’s nine points included a pair of clutch buckets down the stretch, to go along with his game-high 11 assists.
Campbell raced out to a 10-2 lead by knocking down its first four shots from the field, including a pair of three-pointers from Merthie, less than four minutes into the contest.
The Eagles cut it to a three-point game, 18-15, at the 11:28 mark following five straight points from Banks, but couldn’t keep the Camel offense at bay as they equaled their largest lead of the half (8), 23-15, with 10:40 to go.
After giving up points on 10 of Campbell’s first 14 offensive possessions, FGCU clamped down on defense over the next 7:15 en route to a 17-6 run that gave the visitors their first lead of the game at 32-29 with 3:23 remaining. The Eagles built the lead by forcing Campbell into five turnovers after the Camels had zero over the first 10 minutes. FGCU received three-pointers from Fieler, Varidel and sophomore Hunter Miller (Nashville, Tenn./Christ Presbyterian Academy) during the scoring spurt.
FGCU continued to click offensively over the final three minutes, sinking both of its shots from the field and a perfect 7-of-7 from the charity stripe to take a 43-38 lead into the locker room. The 43 points were a first half season-high for the Eagles who shot 52 percent (13-25) from the floor, 71 percent (5-7) from three and 12-of-15 from the line.
After its offensive execution carried it in the first half, FGCU used its defense to avoid trailing at all in the second half. The final 20 minutes did feature three ties with the last coming with 7:02 remaining, at 59-59.
The two teams combined for just 16 points over the final seven minutes, but the Eagles managed to build a five-point lead, 66-61, following a deep three from Varidel at the 3:35 mark.
Despite going its next three possessions without scoring, FGCU still led by two, 66-64, with 1:17 to go.
Banks pushed lead back to two possessions, 68-64, the next trip down the floor, but Hartley, who scored on the Camels’ previous possession, brought the home team back to within two, 68-66, with 36 seconds left.
The Eagles struggled to get the ball in-bounds with 22 seconds left and a jump ball went in favor of Campbell, giving it a chance to tie or take the lead.
With time winding down, the ball went back into Hartley’s hands and the senior point guard found his way into the lane, but threw up a contested runner that caromed off the backboard to Fieler to seal the win.
Junior Marlon Rivera (Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico/Sagemont HS/Santa Fe CC) was the last double figure scorer for the Blue and Green with 10 points and six rebounds over 35 minutes.
FGCU will enjoy a weekend off from game action before continuing its string of four consecutive road games when it heads up state on Tuesday, Jan. 25 to Deland, Fla. to take Stetson. Game time is scheduled for 7 p.m.