MACON, Ga. – Despite trailing by as many as 20 in the first half, the FGCU men’s basketball team fought back to tie the game with seven minutes to play, but couldn’t overcome foul trouble down the stretch during a 74-61 loss at Mercer in a Atlantic Sun matinee at the University Center on Saturday.
The Eagles committed 17 fouls in the final 20 minutes, resulting in 29 free throw attempts (21-29) for the Bears that put an end to the comeback.
The win is the seventh in nine games for Mercer, who improves to 11-15 overall and 8-7 in the A-Sun. The loss slips the Eagles to 6-18 and 3-12 in the league.
FGCU was led by freshman Christophe Varidel (Versoix, Switzerland/Worcester Academy), who upped his double figure streak to 12 games with a team-high 18 points. Varidel, who ranks third in the A-Sun in three-pointers, knocked down four long range field goals.
With several of its starters seeing limited minutes due to foul trouble, the FGCU bench supplied 25 points, led by 10 from sophomore Sherwood Brown (Orlando, Fla./Olympia HS), who had several family and friends in the stands. Junior Kevin Cantinol supplied eight points off the pine to go along with a career and game-high 10 rebounds.
The difference in the game came at the free throw line where the Bears knocked down 26-of-36 compared to 13-of-16 for the Eagles. Mercer committed just eight turnovers and was able to turn FGCU’s respectable total of 12 miscues into 19 points.
Mercer was led by senior Brian Mills who poured in 22 points on 7-of-14 from the field and 8-of-11 from the free throw line. Mills also added seven rebounds, as a total of four players finished in double figures for the Bears.
With the score tied 12-12, Mercer reeled off the game’s next 14 points in just five possessions. The Bears connected on four three-pointers in the five trips down the floor, while the Eagles came away empty and trailed 26-12 with 9:18 left in the half.
The Mercer advantage reached as high as 20, 34-14, with just over six minutes remaining, but FGCU was able to cut the deficit in half by the break thanks to back-to-back three-pointers by Varidel in the final 36 seconds. Varidel’s long range accuracy in the final minute it made it a 40-30 score at the half.
After being held scoreless in the first half and limited to just 11 minutes due to foul trouble, FGCU’s leading scorer Anthony Banks’ (Lantana, Fla./Santaluces HS) stay on the floor to begin the second half last just two minutes before he picked up his third and fourth fouls.
With the Mercer lead still 10, 54-44, with 11:19 left, FGCU embarked on a 10-0 run to tie the game at 54-54. A tip in by junior Tim Snyder (Punta Gorda, Fla./Charlotte HS/Hillsborough CC) and a three by Varidel jump started the run in which the Bears went nearly seven minutes without a made field goal. Banks reentered with four fouls and registered his first basket of the game, while Varidel capped things at the 7:04 mark with a jumper.
Unfortunately, the Eagles then went the next four minutes without a field goal of their own, as Mercer posted the game-deciding 11-1 run that ballooned its lead back to double figures, 65-55, with 3:09 to go.
For the game, the Eagles shot 37 percent (21-57) from the field and just 6-of-22 from beyond the arc. After shooting at a 56 percent clip (15-27) in the first half, Mercer was limited to 32 percent (6-19) in the second half, but was able to make due by going 21-of-29 at the free throw line in the final frame.
FGCU will close its six-day, three-game road swing on Monday night when it travels to Bowling Green, Ky. for a non-conference bout against Western Kentucky. Tip time is set for 8 p.m.