3/9/2014 | Alico Arena - Fort Myers, Fla. | Attendance: 4702
|Stats at a Glance||MER||FGCU|
|3P FG Percentage||.200
DUNK CITY, Fla. – Hosting the Atlantic Sun Men’s Basketball Championship final for the first time, top-seeded FGCU (22-12) nearly erased a 16-point halftime deficit but ultimately fell to second-seeded Mercer (26-8) Sunday afternoon by a 68-60 score, giving the Bears the automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament and sending the Eagles to the NIT.
Bernard Thompson (Conyers, Ga./Rockdale County HS) and Brett Comer (Winter Park, Fla./Winter Park HS) each recorded team highs with 14 points, while senior Chase Fieler (Parkersburg, W. Va./Parkersburg South HS) just missed his second consecutive double-double (13 points, game-high nine rebounds) in potentially his final home game.
Fieler and his teammates will find that out next Sunday evening, Mar. 17, as the Eagles will learn their NIT opponent following the NCAA Tournament Selection Show. Each regular-season conference champion receives an automatic trip to the NIT if it does not win its respective conference tournament. FGCU and Mercer both finished 14-4, and the A-Sun NIT tiebreaker goes to the team which advances further in the tournament without winning the title.
Just a junior, Thompson set FGCU’s career scoring record, surpassing the previous mark of 1,367 of Ryan Hopkins ’05. Likewise, fellow junior Comer tied FGCU’s career assist record as he passed out five and now has matched Bryan Crislip’s mark of 606. Thompson and Fieler were both named to the All-Tournament Team.
In front an electric, record crowd of 4,702 and a national TV audience on ESPN2, FGCU stormed back from a dismal first half to pull within one, 43-42, at the 8:50 mark of the second half. Mercer responded to go back up nine, but behind its patented Dunk City attack the Eagles fought back to get it as close as three on two separate occasions in the closing minutes.
The first time the Bears rebutted with a pair of free throws, and then with 2:29 left Eric McKnight (Raleigh, N.C./Princeton Day Academy/Iowa State) had two free throws to pull the Eagles within one, but missed both. Mercer, behind A-Sun Player of the Year Langston Hall, used the opening to go on a 5-0 run and put the game out of reach.
“I’d like to congratulate Mercer on a great season and I hope they play well in the NCAA Tournament,” head coach Joe Dooley said of the Bears, who had lost to the Eagles in the A-Sun semifinals and final the last two years. “It was an unbelievable atmosphere and the fans have been behind us the whole year. We’re obviously disappointed with the result, but a lot of that was attributable to Mercer’s defense. I’d also like to thank our guys; I’m proud that we got this far and I’m looking forward to coaching them in the NIT.”
Plagued by foul trouble to starters Thompson and McKnight, FGCU dug itself an early deficit and led on just one occasion all game – 1-0 after a Thompson free throw to open the scoring. With both players on the bench with two fouls, Mercer put together runs of 11-0 and 16-2 to turn a 13-13 tie contest into a 29-15 Bears’ lead. The advantage ballooned to as much as 18 before Fieler hit two free throws heading into the halftime break to make it 33-17.
Mercer still held that 16-point edge, 37-21, five minutes into the second half before the Eagles rattled off 22 of the next 27 points to pull within the aforementioned one point, 43-42. The extended run started innocently enough off a Comer lay-in, but included several highlight-reel dunks which fueled the record crowd into a frenzy and stirred FGCU at the defensive end.
After the Eagles had pulled within one, Mercer expanded back out to a nine-point lead, 54-45, with 6:23 showing before Thompson capped a brief 5-0 run with a thunderous one-handed dunk while being fouled. A 3-pointer from Mercer’s Jakob Gollon 30 seconds later deflated FGCU momentarily before it trimmed the deficit to three on two final occasions, but never closer than that.
Mercer was led by Hall, who scored 15 points and grabbed a team-high-tying seven rebounds. Anthony White Jr. also netted 15 points, while Daniel Coursey added 13 and Gollon contributed 12 to round out the quartet of double-figure scorers.
After scoring a season-low 17 points in the first half on 21 percent from the floor (5-24), FGCU netted 43 in the second half behind 56-percent shooting (19-34). Like in their first meeting, the Eagles couldn’t connect from 3-point range, shooting just 12.5 percent (2-16).
GAME NOTES: The 17 points were the fewest in any half for FGCU since it tallied only 13 in January 2011 against Campbell … the loss was just the third in the last 31 home games for FGCU … the Eagles defeated Mercer on its home floor each of the past two A-Sun tournaments … it marked the first time this year that FGCU has held an opponent below 40 percent from the floor (Mercer, 36.7 percent) and lost (13-1) … after finishing with a -10 rebounding disparity in the first half, FGCU was +6 in the second half.
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