A ticket to the big dance just might get punched in Dunk City.
The Florida Gulf Coast University men's basketball Eagles took care of business Tuesday night with a 77-55 victory over the Stetson Hatters in their Atlantic Sun quarterfinal tilt at Alico Arena.
With the win No. 1 seeded FGCU has earned a semifinal berth against conference rival and No. 5 seed ETSU at home on Thursday night at 6:30. ETSU prevailed in double overtime against Lipscomb in its quarterfinal game, 89-88.
The Eagles (21-11, 15-4 A-Sun) earned the top seed in the conference by virtue of a tiebreaker over the Mercer Bears. With a win they would host the A-Sun Championship Game in Dunk City with a berth in the NCAA Tournament on the line.
FGCU made history last year when it became the first 15-seed to ever reach the Sweet 16. The Eages upset Mercer last year on their home court in the A-Sun championship to reach the big dance, and they just might do it, as favorites, in Dunk City this year.
"It's different this year because we're at home," said senior forward Chase Fieler, who led all scorers with 17 points.
Junior guard Brett Comer echoed his teammate's confidence.
"When we play the right way we can beat anyone," he said.
Comer was asked if he liked having the target on his back this year being the favorite to win the conference.
"At the end of the day you have to come out and play no matter what seed you are. I think we proved that last year."
FGCU controlled the outcome from the opening tip, jumping out to leads of 10-2 and 17-4 by attacking the rim and running in transition.
"Chase did a good job scoring and establishing a low-post game," said FGCU Head Coach Joe Dooley. "We played pretty well in the first half, rebounded the ball well. I'm pretty pleased with what we did."
After falling behind quickly, the Hatters clawed back within 8 to make it 21-13. Then the Eagles went on a whirlwind 14-0 run anchored by 4 consecutive 3-pointers from forward Jamail Jones and guard Bernard Thompson with 2 apiece.
The Hatters never got closer than 15 the rest of the way.
After a four-year reclassification period to Division I basketball from 2007 to 2011, FGCU has reached the A-Sun Tournament semifinals all three years it's been eligible for postseason play. The Eagles' 6-1 all-time record in tournament play is the best winning percentage in conference history. They hope to return to the title game for a third straight time as well.
"We're feeling good, we played pretty well offensively," Fieler said.
FGCU benefitted from a balanced scoring effort, with 4 players in double figures and all 5 starters with 9 points or better. Fieler led all scorers with 17, Thompson had 16 and forward Eric McKnight chipped in 15 points and 5 rebounds.
Comer filled up the stat sheet with 9 points, 9 assists and 7 boards in just 21 minutes.
The Hatters were led by B.J. Glaford's 13 points and senior Hunter Miller's 12.
Alico Arena set an attendance record with an announced crowd of 4,673. Thursday's semifinal matchup will be locally televised on CSS.