Florida Gulf Coast
3/9/2013 | Macon, Ga. - Hawkins Arena | Attendance: 3494
|Florida Gulf Coast||38||50||88|
|Stats at a Glance||FGCU||MER|
|3P FG Percentage||.550
FGCU first to punch ticket into NCAA Tournament field of 68
MACON, Ga. – Just a year removed from falling 20 minutes short of its first NCAA Tournament berth, FGCU didn’t let its second chance slip away as Tournament MVP Brett Comer (Winter Park, Fla./Winter Park HS) scored 21 points to lead five players in double figures in the second-seeded Eagles’ 88-75 win over top-seeded Mercer in the A-Sun championship game Saturday afternoon at Hawkins Arena on ESPN2.
Playing in its second straight A-Sun championship game in just its second year of Division I postseason eligibility, FGCU is the first team in this year’s NCAA Tournament field of 68 to clinch a berth thanks to the A-Sun’s automatic bid. The Eagles, who will learn their destination and opponent during the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on Sunday, March 17 at 6 p.m. on CBS, will enter the NCAA Tournament on a five-game win streak and with a 24-10 record.
“This is a special moment for our program, our athletic department and the University,” said head coach Andy Enfield, who has led FGCU to 39 wins in his two seasons at the helm. “We came into the tournament determined to defend and we did that. Today we added one of our best offensive performances of the year against the best defensive team in our league. I’m very proud of everyone involved with our program because it took everyone to accomplish this.”
The matchup featured the A-Sun’s top scoring team FGCU (72.7 ppg) against the league’s top defensive squad Mercer (57.3 ppg). The game moved into an up-tempo affair favoring the Eagles three-quarters of the way through the first half and spilled over into the second half where FGCU scored 50 points on 54 percent (17-31) from the field and owned a double figure lead for the final 9:07.
Comer, who scored 20 points and had seven assists in last year’s A-Sun championship, was the catalyst to the most points being scored against Mercer this season, dropping his fourth career 20-point game that included five assists and three steals. The Winter Park, Fla. product had 12 points and assisted on eight other points in the first half to help FGCU lead 38-36 at the break, marking the 20th straight game the Eagles haven’t trailed at the half.
Joining Comer on the All-Tournament team was A-Sun Player of the Year Sherwood Brown (Orlando, Fla./Olympia HS) and All-Conference second team member Chase Fieler (Parkersburg, W. Va./Parkersburg South HS). After scoring 16 points in the first half of Friday’s win over Stetson, this time, Brown was at his best in the second half with 13 of his 16 points while adding a game-high 11 rebounds for his fifth double-double of the year. Fieler reached double figures for the third straight game in the tournament with 15 points, including 12 in the second half, to go along with six boards.
Trailing 11-3 just over five minutes into the game, FGCU responded to a timeout called by Enfield by scoring 15 of the game’s next 21 points to take a 18-17 lead, concluding with a three-pointer by Filip Cvjeticanin (Zagreb, Croatia/American School of Madrid) from the top of the key with 9:41 left in period.
A back-and-forth first half featured 13 lead changes, oddly enough the same number produced in the two regular season meetings between the two clubs. The final lead change of the half and game came with 3:49 left in the opening frame on a three-pointer from sophomore Bernard Thompson (Conyers, Ga./Rockdale County HS) as FGCU eventually took a 38-36 lead into the half.
FGCU made sure Thompson’s three was the 13th and final lead change of the contest, as it opened the second half on an 11-2 run that also finished with a Thompson trifecta that made it 49-38 in favor of the Eagles and forced Mercer into a timeout.
The Bears clawed back to within five on a pair of occasions with the final coming at 58-53 (11:50) before FGCU promptly responded with a 9-1 run on seven consecutive points from Brown and Fieler’s 54th dunk of the year that ballooned the lead back to 65-54.
With just seven turnovers in the game and a solid 17-of-22 night at the free throw line, FGCU left little room for Mercer to mount any type of a comeback. Junior Christophe Varidel (Versoix, Switzerland/Worcester Academy), who is the program career leader in free throw percentage at an 85 percent clip, knocked down all seven of his attempts, including six in the final 70 seconds, en route to a critical 12 points off the pine.
The home loss was the first of the season for Mercer (24-11), who will receive an automatic invite into the NIT due to winning the A-Sun regular season crown. The Bears were 15-0 at Hawkins Arena, while their last home loss also came to FGCU in 2012 A-Sun Tournament semifinals.
Mercer was also led by its point guard, All-Conference junior Langston Hall who had 12 points, nine assists, six rebounds and no turnovers. For the game, the Bears shot 39 percent (26-67) from the field, but had eight more field goal attempts due to 16 offensive rebounds.
The A-Sun Defensive Player of the Year, Thompson was the fifth Eagle in double figures with 11 points, while adding five rebounds and one steal. The steal was the 96th of the season for Thompson, moving him into sole possession of third in A-Sun single-season history, just eight off the record.
Fans can stay tuned to www.FGCUATHLETICS.com for more information regarding the NCAA Selection Show party held on Sunday, March 17.