(9-9, 2-3 A-Sun)
(11-8, 5-1 A-Sun)
1/16/2014 | Alico Arena (Fort Myers, FL) | Attendance: 4580
|Stats at a Glance||UPST||FGCU|
|3P FG Percentage||.353
DUNK CITY, Fla. – Trailing by as much as 10 points in the second half, the FGCU men’s basketball team (11-8, 5-1 Atlantic Sun Conference) stormed back, and behind its defense and 17 points each from Chase Fieler and Bernard Thompson the Eagles remained tied atop the league standings with a 63-60 win over USC Upstate (9-9, 2-3 A-Sun) in front of the second-largest home crowd in program history.
Fieler (Parkersburg, W. Va./Parkersburg South HS) scored 13 of his points in the second half, while Thompson (Conyers, Ga./Rockdale County HS) added a season-high four steals, five rebounds and two blocks. Brett Comer (Winter Park, Fla./Winter Park HS) was the lone other FGCU player to reach double figures with 10 points, six of which came in the second half as he played all by one second.
Trailing by five, 49-45, at the 11:43 mark, FGCU locked in defensively and limited the Spartans to just five points over the next 8 minutes and 30 seconds to go ahead six, 60-54. A frantic final few minutes resulted in Upstate with the ball and a chance to either tie or take the lead in the closing seconds, but an unsettled possession eventually ended in a Fieler steal with one second left to ice the contest.
“I thought Upstate set the tone early and had us spread out,” head coach Joe Dooley said. “The key came in the second half as we were able to pressure the ball better and string some stops together. I thought we were able to get some stops to get us going, and then offensively we were able to get out and run a little bit which helped us.”
Comer was fighting for a loose ball following a pair of missed layups looking to extend a 62-60 lead with 10 seconds left when he was inadvertently hit in the nose with an elbow from an Upstate player. With Comer laying in the paint, the Spartans went the other way with a chance to tie or take the lead. However, like it did most of the second half, the FGCU defense locked down, and after Fieler’s steal he hit one free throw with .9 of a second left to seal the contest.
Early diagnosis is that Comer suffered a broken nose, but further evaluations will be made on Friday. The junior guard – who entered as the A-Sun’s second-leading passer at 5.3 assists per game – did not issue an assist for the first time in his career.
Trailing by 10, 39-29, early in the second half, FGCU started to mount its comeback with an 8-0 run – capped by a Fieler three-point play following a Comer 3-pointer – to pull within two at the 16:06 mark. However, USC Upstate, which received a first-place vote in the A-Sun Preseason Media Poll, responded and went back up six, 47-41, with a little more than 12 minutes remaining. The teams then traded buckets before FGCU executed its aforementioned extended defensive stand, going on a 15-5 run in that 8+ minute span to earn its 22nd victory in its last 24 tries at Alico Arena in front of 4,580 spectators.
USC Upstate was led by Ty Greene with 21 points on the strength of 4-7 shooting from 3-point range. A-Sun Preseason Player of the Year Torrey Craig scored 12 points and grabbed nine rebounds, but Comer did a terrific job guarding the league’s second-leading scorer in the second half as Craig did not score a single point and grabbed just three rebounds.
The win keeps the Green and Blue even with Mercer at the top of the league ledger, and also continues the best-ever start to a conference season. FGCU’s previous best start through six games was a 4-2 mark last season.
Dajuan Graf (Charlotte, N.C./Phillip O. Berry Academy) continued his extremely steady play with four points, four rebounds, two steals and four assists against no turnovers in 25 minutes off the bench. The sophomore now has 21 assists and only two turnovers in A-Sun action, and over his last five games has issued 18 assists and given the ball away just one time.
Thompson – who finished second in the nation in steals last year – has now recorded seven in the past two games after having only 11 through the first 15 games of the campaign. Eric McKnight (Raleigh, N.C./Princeton Day Academy/Iowa State) scored just five points, but grabbed a team-high seven rebounds and rejected a season-high-tying three shots, including one which led directly to a massive Fieler reverse slam which gave FGCU a one-point lead, 53-52, and the Eagles didn’t trail again the rest of the night.
FGCU remains at home to face ETSU on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Originally scheduled to appear on WINK TV, the contest will now air on ESPN3. The Buccaneers fell at Stetson on Thursday night, 64-58. Another maximum capacity crowd is expected, so fans are encouraged to purchase what limited tickets remain in advance and arrive early.
GAME NOTES: Five of McKnight’s rebounds were offensive, tied for the most by an FGCU player this year … FGCU went 14-16 from the free-throw line, and all the attempts came in the second half … FGCU shot just 39 percent (22-56), while Upstate went for 43 percent on 23-53 … the Eagles won the battle on the boards, 33-30 … USC Upstate came in leading the A-Sun in rebound margin in league games (+9.7) … it was FGCU’s third double-digit comeback of the season.
All 2013-14 men’s basketball season tickets are selling quickly, and only a limited amount remain. Fans can reserve their seat(s) by visiting the Alico Arena Ticket Office, calling 239-590-7145 or logging on to FGCUAthletics.com/Tickets.
For up-to-the-minute information and behind-the-scenes access to the men’s basketball program, follow @FGCU_MBB on Twitter and Instagram, and “Like” us on Facebook at /FGCUMBB.