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Eagles start conference play with three wins

The road to the NCAA Tournament began this past week as the Florida Gulf Coast University men’s basketball team began conference play. The returning Atlantic Sun champions have soared to a 3-0 record to begin league play, the best conference start by the Eagles in school history. The most recent win against Stetson University, 68-55, was Sunday and lifted FGCU to 9-7 overall.

According to ESPN.com, if the season ended now, FGCU would be playing a pigtail game to claim the 16th seed with a win and move on to face Syracuse in the first round. The Eagles may not be ready for that level of competition, however, after only going 6-7 in non-conference play during the first half of the season. The Eagles have a lot to be optimistic about during the 2014 conference season, sparked by a win over Northern Kentucky University, 60-56, to bring in the new year. FGCU’s lone senior, Chase Fieler, scored his 1,000th career point in that game, making him only the second player in school history to score 1,000 points and grab 500 rebounds. Sherwood Brown is the only other player on that list.

“It means a lot,” Fieler said. “Any time you’re in a category with Sherwood Brown it’s definitely something you can be proud of, but again, it’s something I wouldn’t have even been close to if I didn’t have the teammates I did.” On top of leading the team in rebounds with 107, Fieler has managed to get three double-doubles this season, and has snagged double-figure rebounds in four of the last seven games.

Brett Comer’s milestone night happened in the following game against Lipscomb University. On top of tying his career-high with 24 points, Comer made a pass to Bernard Thompson on the wing during the first play of the game to give him 500 career assists. On the year, he leads the team in assists (second in the A-Sun), steals and points per game with 14.9. Comer is currently four points away from moving himself into FGCU’s top 10 all-time scoring list.

A n e i g h t – a s s i s t performance by Comer against rival Stetson University was enough for FGCU to pull out the win, 68-55.

Thompson, a guard, and redshirt junior Eric McKnight, a forward, led the charge with 14 points each. Thompson, who recently scored his 1,000th career point, is now four points away from standing alone at third on the all-time scoring list for FGCU.

McKnight stepped up for only his fourth game of the season after being suspended for the first half of the year. He shot 7-7 from the field, giving him 14 points, a point shy of his career best. McKnight also grabbed a game-high eight rebounds in the win.

Since McKnight’s return, FGCU has gone 3-1, including just a one-point loss to Radford University to end non-conference play this year. Fieler claims McKnight brings energy to the team. “He comes in, he’s a very energetic guy,” Fieler said. “He makes some plays, and uses his athleticism.”

As the team moves on to face the University of North Florida and Jacksonville University this week, they look to avoid turnovers.

Thompson said, “We try not to gamble too much and just be solid on the defensive end, and try not to over-help to where you lose sight of your own man.”

Only two months now remain in the season. Dunk City is optimistic about its fight back to the NCAA Tournament and the Sweet 16. A 3-0 start in conference play is the first step to making it back to the Atlantic Sun Championship game.

Coach Joe Dooley is confident in his Eagles. “We’ve made some progress,” he said. “It’s not always noticeable but we have definitely made progress. We aren’t where we need to get. But that’s the good news and bad news.” The Eagles visit UNF on Thursday and Jacksonville on Saturday.

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