GAME NOTES: Although it comes on a smaller stage than last season, the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles will take aim at another postseason run when they meet the Florida State Seminoles in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament at the Donald L. Tucker Center.
A year ago, Florida Gulf Coast was in the NCAA Tournament and it made headlines for its flashy style as well as its wins over Georgetown and San Diego State that made it the first 15 seed ever to reach the Sweet 16. Head coach Any Enfield moved on to USC following the campaign, but the Eagles still had success this season. They are 22-12 overall entering this tournament, with the disappointment of a loss to Mercer in the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament championship game still fresh in their heads.
Florida State was a bubble team for the NCAA Tournament, but in the end its resume' wasn't deemed worthy of a bid. The Seminoles are a mediocre 19-13 overall, with an even 9-9 split of their ACC contests, but they are a No. 1 seed in this event. Although they missed out on the Big Dance, they still reached the postseason for a school record ninth straight season. They are 10-8 all-time in the NIT, with their best finish coming in 1997 when they lost to Michigan in the title round.
This is the first meeting against Florida State and the first NIT appearance for Florida Gulf Coast. The winner will be paired up against the winner between West Virginia and Georgetown in the next round.
Florida Gulf Coast went down big early and despite a furious rally in the second half, could not make up for it down the stretch against Mercer. The Eagles cut a 16-point halftime deficit to three points with 2:29 to play, but they went 2-of-8 from the floor the rest of the way to take the 68-60 setback.
The offensive game plan for the Eagles hasn't changed much from when Enfield patrolled the sidelines. Under first-year head coach Joe Dooley they are scoring 72.1 ppg and shooting 46.9 percent from the floor, both numbers comparable to the effort of last year's squad (72.9 ppg, .462 FG percentage). Bernard Thompson (15.1 ppg) leads a trio of double-digit scorers. Chas Fieler (14.1 ppg, 7.6 rpg) finishes well around the rim, connecting on 55.3 percent from the field, and Brett Comer (13.9 ppg, 5.4 apg) can create for himself and his teammates.
Florida State's run in the ACC Tournament ended in the quarterfinals where it lost to eventual champion Virginia, 64-51. The Seminoles were limited to 42.6 percent shooting in that contest, while turning the ball over 15 times. Okaro White netted 17 points as the leading scorer in defeat.
Where Florida State has found success this season is on defense. The Seminoles rank among the top-25 in the country in opponent's field goal percentage (.399), while yielding only 65.8 ppg. They don't score all that proficiently themselves, however, netting 70.4 ppg despite leading the ACC in field goal percentage (.465). Aaron Thomas (14.1 ppg) is the primary scorer for the team, connecting on 45 percent from the field. Ian Miller (13.7 ppg) is a solid shooter, and White (13.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg) is an important contributor on the interior.
While another upset is certainly possible for Florida Gulf Coast, expect Florida State to take out its frustration on the Eagles for missing the NCAA Tournament.
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