Fieler's 30 points lead FGCU over Hartford, 65-51
FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP)
The alarms started going off early at the place they call Dunk City.
Eventually, Florida Gulf Coast got its basketball wake-up call as well.
Chase Fieler scored a career-high 30 points, and in the school's first home game since reaching the NCAA's Sweet 16 last season, FGCU pulled away in the second half to beat Hartford 65-51 on Tuesday morning, the matchup tipping off just past 7 a.m.
Fieler scored 20 in the second half, including three dunks - the first three of the season for the Eagles, whose above-the-rim ways caught the nation's attention when they topped Georgetown and San Diego State as a No. 15 seed in the NCAA tournament. Fieler made 13 of 17 shots, and the Eagles shot 62 percent after intermission.
''We woke up early, tried to be awake by the time we got here, went through the same stretching process,'' Fieler said. ''Didn't have the same pregame meal, but once we get on the court, get the crowd behind you, you think of it as just a normal game.''
FGCU (1-1), which lost at Nebraska 79-55 in Friday's opener, was down by 12 after 6 1/2 minutes. The Eagles went ahead for only the final 7.5 seconds of the first half, taking a 27-26 lead into the break on a pair of free throws by Brett Comer.
But after that slow start, they finished on a 61-35 run.
''We still have a long way to go, which is good at this time of the year,'' said FGCU coach Joe Dooley, the former Kansas assistant who took over after Andy Enfield left for Southern Cal. ''But we did some great things.''
Mark Nwakamma had 23 points and 10 rebounds for Hartford (0-2), which was flying back to Connecticut later Tuesday and playing at Fairfield on Wednesday night. The Hawks will play back-to-back games twice this month in an effort to get ready for the America East quarterfinals and semifinals, which are on consecutive days.
''I told my staff, any time I get a chance to go back-to-back ... I'm doing it twice this year on purpose,'' coach John Gallagher said. ''Realistically, we're in a one-bid league. And when you're in a one-bid league, half the country puts on TV in March just to see that. So you want to be ready.''
By 5:30 a.m., hundreds of students had already made their way to the doors of the arena, waiting to be let inside. The teams were getting shots up by 5:45, and when the Sweet 16 banner from last season was unfurled just before 7 a.m., nearly every seat in the place was filled, mostly by fans wearing white T-shirts that were awaiting them in the gym.
Students, they didn't need much caffeine. They were loud from arrival to departure, and even sang ''Happy Birthday'' to a fan holding up a sign announcing he was turning 9.
''It meant a lot,'' Comer said. ''We love having the support here. ... I think it was the most energetic crowd we've had. That's the most students I think that came out and that really helps.''
For Hartford, the schedule might seem unusual, but it's what the Hawks want right now.
There was a 4:30 a.m. wake-up call, though that wasn't totally out-of-character since the Hawks have had their share of early practices already this season to accommodate class schedules. Gallagher wants uncomfortable situations to deal with now, and he's going to get his share - going to Louisville later this month, plus trips to La Salle and Washington in December.
And Gallagher said the experience of facing a Dooley-coached team at FGCU will help plenty down the road as well.
''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.''