MACON, Ga. – The FGCU men’s basketball team fell to the Bears of Mercer at the University Center on Monday night, 78-72. Freshman Anthony Banks scored a career-high 23 points and pulled down 10 rebounds in a losing effort for the Eagles.
With the loss, FGCU falls to 7-15 overall and 4-9 in the A-Sun, while Mercer improves to 11-11 and 7-5 in conference play.
A pair of buckets from Anthony Banks (Lantana, Fla.) helped the Eagles to a 6-2 lead in the first 4:03 of the game. But the Bears would quickly turn things around on FGCU, as four E.J. Kusnyer threes sparked a 20-2 run that saw Mercer take a 22-8 lead with 8:10 to play in the half.
The Bears shot the three ball well in the first half, including a Brandon Moore trey at the buzzer, giving Mercer a 36-23 lead at intermission. As a team, the Bears connected on 7-of-15 (46.7-percent) from long range in the period, while FGCU finished 0-for-8 from behind the arc.
Coming out of the locker room, the Eagles picked up their defensive intensity, utilizing full court pressure and a swarming zone defense that effectively neutralized Mercer’s offense. The Blue and Green held the Bears to just five points over the first 9:06 of the second half, pulling to within two points (40-38) after a pair of Reed Baker (Naples, Fla.) free throws with 13:05 to play.
After Brian Mills scored four consecutive points, Mercer had extended the lead to nine (53-44) with 8:16 left in the game. The Eagles closed the gap quickly, pulling to within four (53-49) on a jumper from Eddie Murray (North Fort Myers, Fla.) just 55 seconds later.
Derrick O’Neil (Moreno Valley, Calif.) converted a three-point play with 5:17 remaining, drawing FGCU to within three points (59-56), but that was as close as the Eagles would get. Kusnyer drove to the hoop for a layup with 2:50 remaining to extend the Mercer lead back to double-digits, 68-58. The Bears would go on to win, 78-72.
Banks recorded his fifth double-double of the season, leading the Blue and Green with a career-high 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting and grabbing a team-high 10 boards. Baker added 13 points and Reggie Chambers (Miramar, Fla.) chipped in with 12.
Kusnyer led the Bears with 22 points (15 in the first half) while Daniel Emerson added 19 points and a game-high 15 rebounds. James Florence, the second-leading scorer in the Atlantic Sun, was held to just eight points on 2-of-8 shooting. This was the first time in the last 43 games that Florence failed to reach double-figures in scoring.
The Eagles land back at home on Thursday, February 4, when they host the Buccaneers of East Tennessee State University, as part of an Eagle hoops doubleheader. The women’s game is scheduled for a 5:15 p.m. start, with the men’s tip-off scheduled for 30 minutes after the conclusion of the FGCU-ETSU women’s game.