The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles and Mercer Bears will conclude the Atlantic Sun Conference season as they square off in the Tournament Championship Game with the winner advancing into this season's Big Dance.
Both sides are deserving of a trip to the NCAA Tournament. FCGU finished second in the conference with a 13-5 league record while Mercer was just a game ahead. They split their season-series with one another as the Bears won on their home court, 77-70, in overtime on Jan. 2 before the Eagles exacted their revenge on Feb. 28 with a hard-fought, 60-57, victory. Mercer holds a 10-3 all-time series lead.
The Bears have the homecourt advantage in this one thanks to their regular- season crown. They have won 17 in a row after a perfect 15-0 performance at Hawkins Arena this season. Mercer played two strong halves on Friday en route to a 72-64 win over USC Upstate. Bud Thomas scored 20 points and Langston Hall added 18 in the victory. Travis Smith provided some sharpshooting, going 4- of-4 from 3-point range and the free-throw line to tally 16 points. Hall became the 35th member of Mercer's 1,000-point club with 1,010.
Smith leads the team in scoring with 13.4 ppg and converts 42.5 percent from beyond the arc. Hall adds 11 points and 4.8 assists per outing.
Mercer hit 14 three pointers in the semifinals, which was only three away from tying the A-Sun Championship record of 17 set by Stetson in 1994. It will be making its seventh appearance in the A-Sun Championship Finals, which is tied for the conference record. The Bears own a 2-4 record in title games but the most previous victory came in 1985.
FCGU has won four games in a row overall including its semifinal, 72-58, rout of Stetson on Friday. The win made FGCU the first runner-up from the previous season to return to the title game the following year since Jacksonville in 2009. Sherwood Brown scored 18 points and Bernard Thompson added a double- double of 12 points and 13 rebounds to power the win. The Eagles went 26-of-59 from the field and led by as many as 16 as they held the Hatters to 33.9 percent efficiency from the floor. Another stout defensive showing may be enough to earn coach Andy Enfield his first A-Sun title in only his second year with the Eagles.
Enfield has done a tremendous job turning the program around. The Eagles��� 23 wins is a Division I program record; surpassing last year's win total of 15, which was the previous record. Brown (15.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and Thompson (14.1 ppg, 2.9 spg) are regularly big-time contributors for FCGU, which showed how tough it can be when it upset Miami-Florida on Nov. 13 in an early-season bout. Thompson is not only an excellent scorer and rebounder, he was also honored as the conference's defensive player of the year for his frustrating impact on opposing offenses.