Florida Gulf Coast first team to qualify for NCAA Tourney

MACON, Ga. (AP) – With former Parkersburg South standout Chase Fieler accounting for 15 points, Florida Gulf Coast University became the first team to clinch a berth in the NCAA Basketball Tournament here Saturday, upsetting top-seeded Mercer on its home court, 88-75, in the championship game of the Atlantic Sun Conference.

Fieler has started every game for Florida Gulf Coast, averaging 12.2 points per contest. He is hitting a team-high 56.5 percent of his field goal attempts and makes 73.2 percent of his free throws. He also is the team’s second leading rebounder.

Brett Comer scored 21 as the second-seeded Eagles snapped Mercer’s 17-game home winning streak, tied for the sixth-longest in the nation. Sherwood Brown added 16 points and 11 rebounds as Florida Gulf Coast pulled away after a back-and-forth first half.

Brown sparked a 14-3 spurt that broke open the tight game, sending Florida Gulf Coast to the NCAAs in just their sixth season as a Division I program. The Eagles celebrated at midcourt, hugging and jumping around after getting their championship gear.

Travis Smith led Mercer with 16 points, but the Bears (23-11) couldn’t overcome 39 percent (26 of 67) shooting from the field. They were denied their first NCAA bid since 1985.

Cheered on by a hometown crowd, Mercer raced out to an 11-3 lead and forced Florida Gulf Coast to call a quick timeout. After that, it was tight the rest of the opening half.

Led by Comer, the Eagles ripped off a 15-6 spurt to grab their first lead since the opening minutes, 18-17. The teams went back-and-forth, the lead changing hands 11 times before halftime. Florida Gulf Coast went to the locker room clinging to a 38-36 edge.

But the Eagles came out firing in the second half. Brown swished a 3-pointer and taunted the crowd, Comer knocked down another trey, and Bernard Thompson hit yet another 3. Just like that, Florida Gulf Coast had pushed out to a double-digit lead for the first time, 49-38.

Jakob’s Gollon’s basket capped a 10-4 spurt that was essentially Mercer’s last gasp.

The Eagles followed a TV timeout with a miss, only to steal the ball back, setting up Brown for a layup. Brown scored two more baskets, including a 3, then Fieler came up with another steal and went in for a jam, pushing Florida Gulf Coast to a 67-54 lead. The Eagles led by as many as 17 down the stretch and were never seriously challenged.

Brown made 4 of 5 from 3-point range. The Eagles shot 51 percent (30 of 59).

Gollon and teammate Bud Thomas scored 14 points.