After a full week without a game, the Eagles (9-3) open up the nest for the last time in 2021 on Sunday, December 19th. In doing so, they welcome a former ASUN rival, Mercer (7-4), through the doors of Alico Arena for the first time since March, 2014. Below we will break down the matchup.
For a rivalry that reached such intense heights, the head-to-head record favors heavily toward the Mercer Bears (13-5). This is largely due to FGCU finding it’s footing during their transition to D-I basketball. It was the 2011-12 season when things finally started to shift. After falling to Mercer in both regular season games, the Eagles upset the Bears when it mattered. A 62-58 victory for the Green & Blue earned them a shot in that year’s ASUN championship game. The following season (2012-13), things really heated up. Mercer won an overtime contest at the start of conference play. FGCU would go on to win their 2nd regular season matchup and also punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament in a big win over the Bears. That win launched the opportunity for the Eagles in the NCAA tournament, where their performance catapulted them into relevance and that special Sweet 16 designation. Mercer played just 1 more season in the ASUN, before joining SOCON. During those final 3 years, FGCU held a competitive 4-5 record against the Bears, with the arrow pointing up. Mercer leaving the conference felt like an abrupt end to something special. Almost 6 years passed without these programs squaring off. In November 2019, a young, inexperienced, FGCU team was beaten handily by Mercer (84-68). Round 2 was set to take place last year, but Covid had other plans. Now, an Alico matchup that is almost 8 years in the making, is set to tip off.
As stated, this iteration of the Mercer Bears have started the season with a solid 7-4 record. Against D-I schools, they are 5-4 with wins over Bucknell, Georgia State, Coastal Carolina, Georgia Southern, and ASUN member Kennesaw State (73-71). Additionally, the Bears have won their last 5 games. As a roster, they are made up of 1 freshman, 4 sophomores, 6 juniors, and 3 seniors/grads. On the court they are led by Felipe Haase, Jalen Johnson, Neftali Alvarez, and James Glisson III, among others. Mercer is coached by Greg Gary, who is in his 3rd season at the helm. A lot of size, but they don’t play much.
The Eagles look to continue their impressive start to the season. At 9-3, they are currently on a 3-game win streak and have won 8 out of their last 9 games. FGCU has looked impressive against some tough competition this year. After hard-fought losses to Loyola-Chicago and USC, the Eagles finally came out on top in a big upset over Rhode Island (now 8-3 and currently ranked 4th in A-10). Since then, they have used that confidence to rack up a lot of quality wins. Leading the way has been Tavian Dunn-Martin, who is averaging nearly 20 points, 3 rebounds, and 5 assists, through 11 games, while shooting 41% from deep. Kevin Samuel’s numbers also continue to rise. As of now, he is averaging almost 11 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game. Over his last 6 games, those numbers increase to 14 points, 10 rebounds, and almost 4 blocks. Cyrus Largie continues to grow into a bigger leadership role on the team. So far, he is averaging 13 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals per game. Caleb Catto is also settling nicely into his new role. No longer being asked to lead the team in scoring night in and night out, Caleb has turned in some very efficient games this season. He’s currently averaging about 9 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists while shooting 41% from 3.
With 9 wins already under their belt and 2 games left on the non-conference slate, FGCU is in a great spot. Each of the past 2 years, the Eagles won a total of 10 games on the season. Winning their final 2 games of 2021 would mean they already have more wins (11), with the majority of the season still to come. Before thinking ahead, the journey to an 11-3 conference record begins with a victory over Mercer. So far, FGCU’s impressive depth has played a big part in their success.