Florida Gulf Coast University was led by a career effort by senior Chase Fieler as the Eagles outlasted East Tennessee State Thursday night in an Atlantic Sun Tournament semifinal 69-64.
Fieler scored 22 points and grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds for the Eagles (22-11) while the Buccaneers (18-15) were led by Rashawn Rembert's 18 points, including four three-pointers.
Tournament top seed FGCU hosts second-seeded Mercer at 2 p.m. Sunday at Alico Arena for the Atlantic Sun Championship game, which will be televised on ESPN2. This is the third consecutive year FGCU has reached the conference title game. Their 7-1 A-Sun tournament record is the best in conference history.
"That was a really competitive college basketball game tonight," said FGCU coach Joe Dooley. "It's great to see the senior leader step up when we needed him."
The teams traded leads throughout and the outcome remained in doubt until junior Bernard Thompson passed to point guard Brett Comer in transition, who unleashed a dunk with 2:06 remaining. The slam sent the sold-out crowd of 4,668 into a frenzy. Jamail Jones nailed a three-pointer on the next possession that effectively ended the game. A desperation three-point attempt by Rembert came up short on the Bucs' next possession.
While the Eagles held a 34-33 lead at halftime, they ended the half with a lethargic 34.2 percent field goal percentage, including 1-of-14 from three-point land. ETSU hit 13-of-30 attempts, including 5-of-11 behind the arc to keep the game tight.
"We were never able to get in a rhythm," Comer said of the team's shooting.
The Eagles benefitted from a number of second chances, thanks to Fieler's eight rebounds on the offensive glass, and a career-high six steals by Thompson. Fieler came out of the gate aggressive, scoring eight of Eagles' first 10 points.
"My teammates did a great job of getting me the ball in places I had an opportunity to score," he said. "I was fortunate to make a lot of shots. I wanted to do everything I could to help us win."
Comer attributed the team's experience in big games to holding onto this one. FGCU became the first 15-seed in NCAA Tournament history to reach the Sweet 16 by upsetting No. 2 Georgetown and No. 7 San Diego State last year. They went on to lose to Florida in Arlington, TX.
"We were able to keep calm, push the lead up and try to win the game," he said.
The 6-foot-3 junior surprised himself by finishing the game with a rare dunk.
"I don't know what got into me tonight," Comer said.