Courtesy of FGCUAthletics.com
DUNK CITY, Fla. – The top-seeded FGCU men’s basketball team looked every bit the part of it on Tuesday night as the Eagles (21-11) never trailed and stormed into the Atlantic Sun Conference semifinals after a commanding 77-55 win over eighth-seeded Stetson (7-24) in front of a record standing-room-only sellout crowd.
Chase Fieler (Parkersburg, W. Va./Parkersburg South HS) led a quartet of FGCU double-figure scorers with 17, while Bernard Thompson (Conyers, Ga./Rockdale County HS) tallied 16. Eric McKnight (Raleigh, N.C./Princeton Day Academy/Iowa State) finished with 15 points – his second-highest total of the year – and Jamail Jones (Atlanta, Ga./Montverde Academy) worked his way into his seventh straight double-figure scoring contest with 10, two of which came on a vicious one-handed slam.
With the win FGCU advances to the A-Sun semifinals for the third straight year where it will host fourth-seeded ETSU (18-14) on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on CSS, and will serve as the rubber match between the two clubs as they split a pair of regular-season meetings, with each team winning on its home court. ETSU, which went 10-8 in conference play, defeated fifth-seeded Lipscomb, 89-88, in double overtime on Tuesday.
FGCU opened up a double-figure lead, 15-4, eight minutes in after a Thompson lay-in and never let up from there. A 12-0 run fueled by four consecutive 3-pointers later in the half turned an eight-point game into a 20-point advantage, 33-13, at the 6:25 mark, and that’s the deficit FGCU handed the Hatters at the half (41-21).
The lead ballooned to 27 in the early stages of the second half after Fieler converted a traditional three-point play. Stetson, which fell to 1-15 on the road this season, could get no closer than 17 the rest of the night as the record 4,673 fans – the largest A-Sun Championship crowd in the last five years – left witnessing FGCU’s 14th home triumph of the year.
“I thought we got off to a good start – we got some stops and were able to get out in transition. We were fortunate that they missed some shots, but we were able to establish our post game,” FGCU head coach Joe Dooley said. “Chase did a good job scoring and establishing that low-post game which I thought was a deciding factor. We took our foot off the gas a little bit in the second half after a good first half, but for the most part I’m pretty pleased with what we did tonight.”
Brett Comer (Winter Park, Fla./Winter Park HS) narrowly missed his second double-double of the season with nine points and nine assists, which were complemented by a game-high and season-best seven rebounds. The junior, who was named to the A-Sun First Team on Monday, did his work in just 21 minutes of action as he picked up his third foul early in the second half.
Dajuan Graf (Charlotte, N.C./Phillip O. Berry Academy) didn’t score, but did issue two assists and grab three rebounds, in addition to recording a career-high six steals. The six pilfers in only 22 minutes of action are the most by any FGCU player in a game this year, and one shy of tying the A-Sun Championship record.
Stetson, which finishes the year 1-17 when allowing opponents to score at least 70 points, was led by B.J. Glasford with 13 points. Hunter Miller added 12, while Willie Green chipped in with 10 as the Hatters shot 36 percent (21-58) from the floor and finished with 21 points in the first half.
The 21 points FGCU allowed were tied for the fewest it has held an opponent to all year, and were the lowest versus a Division-I foe (21 vs. Ave Maria). The Eagles’ defense locked in – particularly during a 28-percent first-half performance by Stetson from the floor in the first half – as they improved to 12-0 on the campaign when holding their opponents below 40 percent from the field.
The Eagles, who have not trailed in eight games this year, move their all-time conference tournament record to 6-1 (.857 winning percentage), the best in A-Sun Championship history among current league members.
The Green and Blue are now 14-1 at home this year, including a perfect 10-0 mark against A-Sun competition – the only school in the conference which can make such a claim. Dating back to last year, FGCU has won 20 of its past 21 home games, and boasts a 29-2 record at Alico Arena since the start of the 2012-13 campaign.
FGCU dominated the glass, holding a 41-30 rebounding edge as it has now out-rebounded its last five opponents, and four of those by double figures. The Ealges move to 16-2 when out-rebounding their opponents on the year.
A limited amount of general admission tickets remain for Thursday’s game, and they can be purchased by visiting the Alico Arena Ticket Office, calling 239-590-7145 or logging on to FGCUAthletics.com. If FGCU wins that matchup with ETSU, the Eagles will host the title game on Sunday at 2 p.m. on ESPN2 against either Mercer or USC Upstate.
GAME NOTES: Comer nearly had more assists than Stetson (10) … the win was FGCU’s third of the year over the Hatters … five of FGCU’s six 3-pointers came in the first half … FGCU went 79.2 percent from the free-throw line (19-24) … the Eagles out-scored the Hatters in the paint, 43-26, off turnovers, 17-10, in second-chance points, 13-3, and in fastbreak, 7-0.
For Atlantic Sun Conference Championship ticket information and sales, visit the Alico Arena Ticket Office, call 239-590-7145 or log on to FGCUAthletics.com.