(20-10, 13-4 ASun)
Florida Gulf Coast
(20-10, 12-5 ASun)
2/28/2013 | Fort Myers, Fla. (Alico Arena) | Attendance: 3586
|Florida Gulf Coast||27||33||60|
|Stats at a Glance||MER||FGCU|
|3P FG Percentage||.250
Eagles keep hopes of A-Sun co-regular season title alive
FORT MYERS, Fla. – Trailing by three entering the final minute, FGCU made 6-of-7 at the free throw line down the stretch to rally for a hard-fought 60-57 Atlantic Sun win over first place Mercer in a physical affair Thursday night in front of a crowd of 3,586 at Alico Arena.
Entering two games behind the Bears in the A-Sun standings, the Eagles are now just one back of Mercer (20-10, 13-4) with Saturday’s 5:15 p.m. tilt against Kennesaw State remaining. The win gives FGCU (20-10, 12-5) its first 20-win season in program Division I history, while the Eagles ended Mercer’s eight-game win streak.
For the seventh time in A-Sun play, FGCU limited an opponent to less than 60 points, improving to 7-0 when accomplishing the feat. The Eagles turned 11 steals into 17 points, but it was their 13 offensive rebounds that provided the biggest difference in the game in the form of a 21-8 edge in second chance points.
“Mercer is the best defensive team in our league so we expected the game to be between 60 and 65 points,” said head coach Andy Enfield. “We were able to match their intensity on the defensive end a got enough consecutive stops down the stretch to come away with the win and keep our league title hopes alive. This was an excellent college basketball game and an electric atmosphere thanks to our fans.”
On a night that saw just a combined four players reach double figures, sophomore Bernard Thompson (Conyers, Ga./Rockdale County HS) led FGCU in scoring for the third straight contest with 14 points. Thompson also added three steals to move into the top 10 in A-Sun single-season history with 85. Junior Chase Fieler (Parkersburg, W. Va./Parkersburg South HS) was a perfect 4-for-4 from the field, including all three from beyond the arc, for 11 points and grabbed a team-high seven rebounds.
Mercer was led by 6-foot-10 junior Daniel Coursey, who finished with his first career double-double of 14 points and 10 rebounds. Junior Travis Smith knocked down 4-of-9 from three-point land, while the rest of the Bears were just 1-of-11 from long range.
Four of the game’s six lead changes and seven of the eight ties came in the second half where FGCU equaled its largest lead of the game (8), 49-41, with 6:47 to play following an 8-0 run that broke up a 41-41 tie.
The Bears found their offensive rhythm over the next five minutes, coming away with points on seven of the next eight possessions to eventually take the lead at 55-54 on a dunk by Coursey with two minutes to play that caused Enfield to call timeout. Mercer added the next two points at the free throw line to cap the run at 16-5, owning a 57-54 edge with 1:05 on the clock.
After being fouled on a three-point attempt with 44 seconds remaining in the left corner, Thompson made 2-of-3 shots to cut the deficit to one, at 57-56.
With the game clock and shot clock separated by nine seconds, FGCU didn’t have to foul and sophomore Eric McKnight (Raleigh, N.C./Princeton Day Academy) came up with a big block and rebound on the offensive end on Mercer’s next possession. McKnight was fouled while possessing the rebound and made both free throws at the other end to give the lead back to the Eagles, at 58-57.
Mercer turned to Smith on the ensuing possession, but his three-point shot from the left wing caromed out-of-bounds without anyone touching it. Enfield quickly subbed in junior Christophe Varidel (Versoix, Switzerland/Worcester Academy) – career 85 percent free throw shooter – and he promptly was fouled on the in-bound pass. Varidel didn’t disappoint, knocking both free throws to bump the lead to 60-57.
With just over three seconds remaining, Mercer got the ball in the hands of Bud Thomas who worked his way to mid-court and saw his heave hit the rim twice before as the buzzer sounded.
Freshman Dajuan Graf (Charlotte, N.C./Phillip O. Berry Academy) provided a big spark of the bench with eight points and two steals in 17 minutes of action. McKnight’s block in the final minute was companied by seven points and five rebounds.