FGCU's quest to return to the NCAA Tournament ultimately fell short with a loss in the Atlantic Sun title game to the Mercer Bears 68-60 Sunday afternoon.
The Bears earn the Atlantic Sun Conference's automatic tournament berth while FGCU earned a bid to the National Invitational Tournament. The selection takes place on Sunday, March 17, immediately following the NCAA Tournament selection show.
FGCU couldn't overcome a 17-point, five-field goal first half as Mercer played a stingy zone defense that FGCU struggled to penetrate.
"I congratulate Mercer on a great season and hope they play well in the NCAA Tournament," said Eagles coach Joe Dooley. "We're obviously disappointed I'm proud that we got this far and I'm looking forward to coaching in the NIT."
After entering halftime down 33-17, the Eagles (22-12) righted the ship in the second half, clawing back into the game with multiple defensive stops and a 25-10 run punctuated by a three-pointer by Filip Cvjeticanin (plus a foul) and a layup by senior forward Chase Fieler to pull within 43-42.
"We never really felt like we weren't going to win," Fieler said. "We knew they were a great team, but we were getting stops on the defensive end, we weren't allowing those second chance points."
A quick 7-0 run by Mercer brought the advantage back to eight. Fieler and junior Eric McKnight both picked up their fourth fouls during the run and had to leave the game with roughly eight minutes to play.
The Eagles rebounded to pull within three with 3:38 to play when forward Jamail Jones threw down a thunderous put-back slam to make it 57-54. On the following possession Mercer center Daniel Coursey went up for a dunk on Fieler, who staved off the attempt but picked up his fifth foul in what could be his final game in Dunk City. He finished the game with 13 points and nine rebounds.
McKnight fouled out shortly thereafter and the Eagles never recovered, as the Bears hit their free throws down the stretch, finishing 20-of-24 from the charity stripe.
Junior guard Brett Comer finished with 14 points and five assists, tying the Eagles' all-time record for assists, and junior Bernard Thompson scored 14 to become the school's all-time leading scorer with another year of eligibility left.
The Eagles picked up an automatic bid to the National Invitational Tournament by virtue of their A-Sun regular season title. They have a chance to host an NIT game at Alico Arena.
The Bears (26-8) were led by tournament MVP Langston Hall, who had a game-high 15 points along with teammate Anthony White's 15 and Coursey's 13 points and seven rebounds.
The Eagles learn their fate on Selection Sunday where their journey will take them next.