Courtesy of FGCUAthletics.com
DUNK CITY, Fla. – After a game-long battle, the top-seeded FGCU men’s basketball team earned a 69-64 victory over fourth-seeded ETSU (18-15) in front of a standing-room-only sellout crowd at Alico Arena Thursday night. The Eagles (22-11) advance to the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship game for the third time in the team’s three years of post-season eligibility. FGCU will host the winner of the Mercer-USC Upstate semifinal game for the title on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. on ESPN2.
In a game that saw 12 tie scores and 10 lead changes, the Eagles were led by Chase Fieler (Parkersburg, W. Va./Parkersburg South High School). The Eagles’ lone senior paced all players with 22 points and a career-high 15 rebounds for his seventh double-double of the season and ninth of his career. Fieler produced a double-double in the first half alone and added eight more points in the second half.
Jamail Jones (Atlanta, Ga./Monteverde High School) also produced his third double-double in the past six contests with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Bernard Thompson (Conyers, Ga./Rockdale County High School) added 14 points and a career-high-tying six steals for FGCU, while Brett Comer (Winter Park, Fla./Winter Park High School) completed the FGCU quartet of double-figure scorers with 10 points.
Tickets for Sunday’s title game are already sold out. The only possibility for tickets to become available is if either USC Upstate or Mercer does not utilize its conference-mandated allotment of 350. Remaining tickets from that allotment, if any, will go on sale on a first-come, first-served basis in person at the Alico Arena Ticket Office starting at 12 p.m. on Saturday.
On Thursday, 4,668 fans – the second-largest crowd in arena history and sixth standing-room-only sellout of the year – witnessed FGCU overcome its third-worst shooting performance of the season as the Eagles connected at just 37.3 percent (22-59) from the floor.
“We saw a really competitive college basketball game tonight,” said head coach Joe Dooley. “I thought that ETSU was terrific; they came out and made some plays but our guys responded. It was great to see a senior leader (Fieler) step up when we needed him. We struggled in spots. We all noticed we didn’t shoot the ball well, but sometimes you have to rely on your defense, and our defense saved us tonight.”
That defense limited the Bucs – who led the A-Sun in scoring at 77.2 points per game – to just 23 percent (7-30) in the second half after a 43-percent (13-30) showing in the first half.
The Eagles held a one-point lead, 34-33, at the half but did not pull away with the advantage until the 11th hour. With the score knotted at 62 with two minutes on the clock, Comer received a pass from Thompson and took it coast-to-coast for a fast-break dunk to erupt the crowd and give the Eagles a two-point lead. The Green and Blue defense stopped ETSU’s next possession before Jones nailed just the Eagles’ fourth, and final, 3-point shot of the game to increase the lead to 67-62 with one minute left to play.
Two ETSU free throws cut the lead to just three points in the final minute, but Jones sank 2-of-4 free throws in the final 21 seconds to seal the win for FGCU, which ran its winning streak at home to 12 straight and 30-2 over the past 32 games dating back to the start of last season.
After starting the game 0-for-11 from the perimeter, Filip Cvjeticanin (Zagreb, Croatia/American School of Madrid) sank the Eagles’ first 3-pointer of the game to cut the deficit to just one point and bring out the intensity in the crowd with fewer than three minutes on the clock. Thompson interrupted the Bucs’ next possession with a steal and a fast-break layup but was fouled on the shot attempt. He made two shots from the free-throw line to reclaim the lead for the Eagles at 28-27.
Fieler increased the Eagles’ lead to 30-27 with a put-back dunk and extended the Eagles’ run to 9-0 over a course of three minutes. After a timeout, ETSU tied the game at 30 with one minute to play on another shot from long range, but Fieler and Thompson combined for four quick points to put the home team ahead, 34-30, in the final minute of action. ETSU added another 3-pointer on its final possession to bring the halftime score to 34-33 in favor of the Eagles.
The teams battled for the lead in the second half and again traded the lead another five times through the first 16 minutes of the final half with neither team ever holding a lead of more than six points. Midway through the half, the Bucs held a one-point lead at 49-48, and from there neither team led by more than three the rest of the night until the Jones huge baseline 3-pointer.
FGCU out-scored ETSU in the paint, 32-15, and is now 25-0 dating back to 2011-12 when out-pacing its competition in the paint by at least 15 points. The Eagles needed every one of those as they shot just 17.4 percent (4-23) from 3-point range against the Bucs’ zone defense.
Thompson (1,365) moves within three points of breaking the program’s all-time record for points, currently held by 2005 graduate Ryan Hopkins. Comer, meanwhile, pulls within six assists of the program record as he slid into third place in A-Sun history with now 601 career helpers.
GAME NOTES: The game was FGCU’s 10th TV contest of the year, and fifth on CSS … Eric McKnightsecured seven rebounds … the Eagles went 21-30 (70 percent) from the free-throw line … FGCU out-rebounded its sixth straight opponent, 46-39 … the six steals from Thompson mark the second straight game the Eagles have had six steals from a player as Dajuan Graf had six in the quarterfinal win Tuesday over Stetson.
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.