For the Dance: FGCU, Mercer play for A-Sun title
For Florida Gulf Coast and Mercer, the ultimate tiebreaker awaits.
For Mercer, it’s a shot at revenge as well.
After sharing the Atlantic Sun regular-season title, FGCU (22-11) and Mercer (25-8) meet Sunday on the Eagles’ floor in Fort Myers, Fla., to decide the conference’s postseason champion and the league’s automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. The same teams reached the championship game a year ago, with FGCU winning at Mercer on the way to a storybook run to the Sweet Sixteen as a No. 15 seed.
It’s a matchup that both teams wanted.
“It’s Mercer,” FGCU guard Brett Comer said with a shrug. “Best team to play against.”
FGCU and Mercer split two meetings this season, both winning at home. The combined score of those games: FGCU 130, Mercer 129. The Eagles shot 40 percent, the Bears 38 percent.
But home court was a big factor. Mercer won by 13 in Macon, Ga.; FGCU won by 14 in Dunk City, the moniker born last season that still sticks today. And that would suggest that FGCU gets a decided edge Sunday.
Not so fast, Mercer says.
“It don’t matter where it is or where it’s on,” Mercer coach Bob Hoffman told reporters after his team beat USC Upstate in the A-Sun semifinals Thursday. “Let’s play on the beach or that parking lot they have out there that people are playing on.”
True, FGCU has an on-campus beach, and there are a slew of outdoor courts next to Alico Arena that are often busy.
Odds are, come 2 p.m. Sunday, both could be deserted. They’ll cram about 4,600 people into that building, which will be loud, hot, imposing and possibly even intimidating.
“It’s going to be a game I think a lot of people anticipated,” FGCU star Chase Fieler said. “Should be fun.”
Both teams went 14-4 in league play, with FGCU winning the tiebreaker for the top seed because it went 2-0 against Upstate, which finished third in the regular-season race.
The Eagles have steadfastly insisted that outside pressure hasn’t mattered this season, but they surely know that anything less than a return to the NCAAs would be considered a letdown, especially with that chance coming at home — where they’re 30-2 over the last two seasons.
“I think our guys have prepared for this for a while,” said FGCU coach Joe Dooley, who was a Kansas assistant when Dunk City made its NCAA run last season.
Mercer is no slouch, by any measure. Even for Dunk City, this won’t be easy.
The Bears entered the weekend as one of only 19 teams nationally to have already won 25 games this season, are ranked among the nation’s top 25 in both field-goal percentage and points per game, and have won eight of their last 12 away from home.
“I want them to get every opportunity they possibly can,” Hoffman said, “because nobody deserves it any more than them.”
They also have a great incentive: the memory of watching FGCU celebrate on their floor last season.
“Obviously, they want this,” Fieler said. “They have eight seniors on the team that played the majority of their careers. They want it pretty bad, but whatever.”
In his eyes, it’s a grand chance for the Eagles as well.
Sure, they were the talk of their campus — and after beating Georgetown and San Diego State in the NCAAs, the whole nation, it seemed — after winning the A-Sun a year ago.
To get it done at home this time around, that would be even more significant, Fieler said.
“The feeling of winning at Mercer last year was unbelievable,” Fieler said. “Trying to capture that again, but on our home court with our home fans right there, a lot of families will be there for it, the thought of that would mean so much more. Repeat, going back to the dance, what we’ve been working all season for, what we’ve wanted and our main goal being all year, to finally achieve it, it’d almost be surreal.”