Eagles take down Hartford in home opener
Dunk City is back.
After their magical run to the Sweet 16 in last year’s NCAA tournament, fans finally got to see the now-famous Dunk City in person.
In front of 4,525 fans, FGCU (1-1) defeated Hartford (0-2) 65-51 in a national TV game at 7 a.m. Nov. 12.
“It meant a lot (the fan turnout),” junior guard Brett Comer said. “In my three years here, that was easily the most energetic crowd we’ve ever had. It really helps, because when you start to beat up on a team, you get the crowd behind you, and it really helps to get the momentum going. I’m glad they all came out, and I hope they keep coming.”
Comer finished the game with nine points, eight assists and zero turnovers. Comer had six turnovers and three assists in the loss to the University of Nebraska the first game of the year.
“A lot helped my game because we were getting stops in transition,” Comer said. “I didn’t get a flow against Nebraska because we walked the ball up the court every trip because they scored every time. I think that helped, and also taking advantages of mismatches. We just played off the matchups, and I just felt comfortable.”
Comer’s teammate, senior Chase Fieler, was also feeling comfortable as he scored a career high 30 points off 13-17 shooting from the field, including three dunks, the first of which came with 15:32 left in the game. “Before the game we look at matchups that we want to take advantage of,” Fieler said. “Marcus Blake had two fouls early, so the guy he was guarding was on me, and I kept getting it and he couldn’t really foul, and he had to back up a little bit so I didn’t have much of a contest. Being aggressive like that is something that coach and I have talked about, so I need to keep that mindset going the rest of the season.”
Fieler’s 13 field goals set an FGCU Division I program record. He was one point shy of tying the single-game record that was set in 2007.
“If he keeps playing like that I’m going to have Ken [Kavanagh] set all our games at 7 a.m.,” FGCU head coach Joe Dooley said, laughing.
Players arrived to Alico Arena around 4:45 a.m. and had pre-game snacks and breakfast bars. They treated the pre-game routine like they would for any other game. “Once we got on the court, and got the crowd behind us, you think of it as just a normal game,” Fieler said.
The first half was sluggish for FGCU. They were down as much as 12 and had to play catch-up the whole half. The Eagles led for just 7.5 seconds in the first half, and that was to end the half.
“We have to be a better starting team,” Dooley said. “Especially on the road because you don’t have the crowd to get you back into the game. We have to slow down, and I think that comes with familiarity and easing into the season.”
Hartford junior Mark Nwakamma was the leading scorer for the Hawks. He finished with 23 points in 33 minutes. “I give credit to Florida Gulf Coast, the atmosphere and the job coach Dooley is doing,” Hartford coach John Gallagher said. “We just didn’t have an answer for Fieler.
He went on that run, and I thought they really understood the mismatches we were doing out of timeouts and they capitalized. I thought we had some great looks in the second half. We just didn’t knock them down.”
Hartford won 17 games last year and Gallagher wanted to challenge his team early on in the season so they would be ready conference play.
“I want my team to be in uncomfortable situations,” Gallagher said. “Because come January, February and March, I want to make the uncomfortable situations really comfortable. I want it to be like normal procedure for us, and I think today gave us a great taste of that.”
The Hawks shot 41 percent from the field, but were outscored in the paint, 38-22. It was the first meeting between the two teams, and even though Gallagher doesn’t know much about FGCU, he has high praise for Dooley and his program.
“The respect people in my business have for him and the job he’s going to do here, I think they got one of the best coaches in America,” Gallagher said. “I think Florida Gulf Coast is going to be great for years to come because they’ve got him at the helm.”