After getting run out of the sparkling new Pinnacle Bank Arena on Friday night, the FGCU Eagles entered Tuesday morning’s game against Hartford in need of a victory to avoid an 0-2 start to the Joe Dooley era. And in the first 20 minutes FGCU looked like a team that yearned for the comfort of their beds, trailing for much of the first half before taking a 27-26 lead into the halftime break.
Whatever was said in the locker room lit a fire under the Eagles, most notably senior forward Chase Fieler. After scoring a team-high ten points in the first half Fieler added 20 more in the second with a solid array of shots (and dunks), finishing with 30 points and 11 rebounds to lead FGCU (1-1) to the 65-51 victory. Fieler made 13 of his 18 shot attempts, bouncing back well after struggling mightily in FGCU’s loss at Nebraska.
As a team FGCU shot nearly 62% from the field in the second half, and their work to find higher-quality looks from the field was enough to offset the 23 points and nine rebounds put up by Hartford’s (0-2) Mark Nwakamma. FGCU’s effort on the defensive end shouldn’t be ignored either, as they forced nine second-half turnovers. Point guard Brett Comer, who turned the ball over six times against Nebraska, tallied eight points without a single turnover.
It’s always difficult to do too much reading into games like this, because the 7:00 a.m. start time is something foreign to all involved. But if FGCU is to win the Atlantic Sun and make another NCAA tournament appearance, the leadership of veterans such as Comer, Fieler and Bernard Thompson will be of high importance. After a sluggish first half, the Eagles “smelled the coffee” and took care of business.