MACON, Ga. – The Florida Gulf Coast University men’s basketball team is headed to the NCAA Tournament for the first time.
FGCU beat top-seed Mercer on the Bears home court Saturday to win the Atlantic Sun tournament championship and earn the automatic bid to the NCAAs. The Eagles led the entire second half in their 88-75 victory. The second-seeded Eagles (24-10) became the first team in the 68-team field.
In their sixth Division I season since moving up from Division II, FGCU won it’s first Atlantic Sun title in its second year of eligibility. The Eagles were on a four-year probationary period and finished runner-up in the A-Sun tournament in their first appearance last year.
Sophomore guard Brett Comer tied his season high with 21 points, including 12 pivotal first-half points as the Eagles erased and early eight-point deficit. Chase Fieler finished with 12 points, including nine straight in the second half as FGCU pushed its lead to as many as 17 points.
Sherwood Brown had 16 for FGCU.
After finishing with five assists and three steals, Comer was named the tournament Most Valuable Player. Fieler and Brown also many the all-tournament team. Comer averaged 13 points and six assists in three A-Sun tournament victories.
The Eagles shook off a slow start in which they shot 1-for-7 and trailed 11-3 five minutes into the game. FGCU then hit 26 of its next 43 shots as it pushed its lead to double digits. The Eagles made 11 3-pointers.
Christophe Varidel hit all six of his free throws in the final minute to seal the victory as Mercer got within 10 with 59 seconds left.
Here is the key moments from FGCU’s historic 88-75 victory over Mercer to ear its first trip to the NCAA tourney.
18:25 — Eagles’ Sherwood Brown hits 3-pointer for FGCU’s first points. Mercer 3, FGCU 2
14:56 — Bears’ Bud Thomas converts a breakaway layup to put Mercer up 11-3. FGCU’s Andy Enfield calls time out.
11:15 — Chris Varidel attacks basket and scoops it in as he gets foul. He converts 3-point play to cut lead to one. Mercer 14, FGCU 13
8:50 — Brett Comer pushes a 1-on-3 fast break and makes a floater to put FGCU up 20-19. Comer would go on to score 12 of FGCU’s next 14 and assisted on the other basket.
2:04 — Varidel hits a fall-away 3-pointer to put FGCU ahead 38-33.
0:01 — Varidel misses desperation layup at the buzzer but FGCU leds 38-36.
19:20 — Comer dishes an alley-oop pass to Eric McKnight, who starts second half scoring. ESPN2 analyst Dereck Whittenburg says his famous air-ball shot that Lorenzo Charles converted for NC State upset of Houston 30 years ago was an alley-oop pass, too.
17:05 — Comer penetrates the paint and then passes out to Bernard Thompson, who nails a 3-pointer to give FGCU a double-digit lead at 49-38. Timeout Mercer.
15:44 — Comer scores on a runner in the lane to put FGCU back up by 10, 51-41.
9:10 — Eagles’ Sherwood Brown nails 3-pointer and then blows kisses to the crowd. FGCU 65, Mercer 54.
6:02 — Brown nails a deep 3-pointer to give FGCU its biggest lead at 77-60.
0:41 — Varidel is fouled for the third time in the final two minutes. He connected on all six free throws.
0:00 —FGCU celebrates first NCAA bid.