FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Langston Hall and Anthony White Jr. scored 15 points each and Mercer earned its first NCAA tournament berth since 1985, beating top-seeded Florida Gulf Coast 68-60 in the Atlantic Sun Conference championship game on Sunday.
Daniel Coursey scored 13 points and Jakob Gallon added 12 for the second-seeded Bears (26-8), who lost the A-Sun title game at home to the Eagles a year ago, then had to watch FGCU make a run to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA tournament and become known nationally as “Dunk City.”
It will be Mercer’s time in the tourney this year, after handing FGCU its third home loss in 33 games over the past two seasons.
Bernard Thompson and Brett Comer scored 14 points each for FGCU (22-12), which got 13 from Chase Fieler and cut a huge second-half deficit down to one but couldn’t get the lead back. The Eagles led for 8 seconds in the first half, and never again.
FGCU will play in the NIT.
Up by as many as 18 points in the first half, Mercer came out stagnant offensively to open the second 20 minutes, almost looking to burn clock instead of score points.
It was exactly what FGCU needed.
Over a 6½-minute stretch, a 16-point deficit got trimmed to one on a score by Fieler with 8:50 left. After the Eagles missed their first 10 tries from 3-point range, Comer and Filip Cvjeticanin made consecutive tries from beyond the arc, then Comer added a three-point play and Fieler’s basket made it 43-42.
Mercer feasted all game on second-chance points and FGCU foul trouble, and that’s what let the Bears survive that huge run.
The Bears ripped off the next seven points, needing only 59 seconds to do so, pushing the margin quickly to 50-42.
From there, it was survival time for Mercer.
Comer had a steal and set up Thompson for a spectacular dunk while getting fouled, getting the Eagles within four again — only to have Gallon answer with one of the biggest shots of the day, a 3-pointer.
And the Bears simply would not lose the lead. Fieler fouled out with just under 3 minutes left, Mercer got just enough stops, and soon the turnabout was complete.
This time, the Bears were the road team cutting down nets and celebrating an NCAA berth.
It was 33-17 Mercer at halftime, after an opening 20 minutes where fouls were a giant problem for the Eagles.
Thompson — who became FGCU’s all-time leading scorer in the game — picked up two fouls in the first 7 minutes, and when Eric McKnight checked out after picking up his second with 9:26 left in the half things changed in a hurry.
One possession after McKnight exited, it was 13-all. A 20-2 run by Mercer followed from there.
White and Hall each scored five points in that spurt, which happened with the Bears not even shooting particularly well — but riding the strength of what became a 24-14 first-half rebounding edge. The only blunder Mercer made in the final 9 minutes was fouling Fieler on a 25-foot try with 0.8 seconds left in the half.
He made two of three free throws, getting the Eagles within 33-17 to end a half where they shot 5 for 24 from the field, burned three timeouts, missed all 11 of their jump shots and their last eight shots overall.