Mercer and Florida Gulf Coast Uuniversity meet on the Eagles’ home turf Sunday in a basketball game determining the champion of the Atlantic Sun Conference. Possibly more important to both schools: the champion team of A-Sun gets an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.
The Bears have a feeling of deja-vu; this time last year Mercer fought FGCU at home in Hawkins Arena for the same chance to go into the NCAA brackets. FGCU won the game and took the NCAA bid, making an amazing run all the way to the Sweet Sixteen as a No. 15 seed.
Some Mercerians said FGCU deserved support in the NCAA tournament last year, but support for FGCU during the 2013 NCAA tournament was hard to stomach for Mercer fans. The Bears watched FGCU celebrate a championship win that could have been Mercer’s, and on their home court to boot.
“I want them to lose on their court,” said Mercer student Taylor Feeney.
Mens basketball coach, Bob Hoffman, is confident the team is ready to win the championship on enemy territory.
“It don’t matter where it is or where it’s on,” said Hoffman after the Bears narrowly won against USC Upstate in the A-Sun semifinals Thursday. “Let’s play on the beach or that parking lot they have out there that people are playing on.”
Despite Hoffman’s confidence, Mercer is making sure the team gets as much support from home as possible. The Office of the President, SGA and Campus Life pooled resources to foot the bill to bus students from Macon to Fort Myers, Fla. Mercer is covering the buses, tickets, food and hotel rooms at the Hyatt Place in Fort Myers. Latest estimates put the total cost of the trip at $15,000.
“Remember: you are in enemy territory,” said Todd Thomas, assistant director of intramural sports to a room full of students volunteering to travel. “Don’t get in a shouting match with the [FGCU] students, just ignore them.”
True, the Bears fans will be outnumbered almost 45 to 1 at a school that’s notorious for being rowdy.
“You guys can make or break it,” said Dean of Students Dr. Doug Pearson to the students. “Stay classy.”
The Mercer Maniacs Twitter feed (@MercerManiacs) has no qualms with trash talk.
“Trying to remember when FGCU was founded…. 1997?? N’Sync is older than them.”
“We’re the rednecks? When FGCWho started, their classes were in trailers.”
Mercer and FGCU battled twice before in the regular season, both winning at home. Between those two games, Mercer scored a total of 129 points with a 38 percent shot efficiency; FGCU scored 130 with a 40 percent shot efficiency. FGCU appears to have a slight advantage over Mercer based on the numbers, but there is no clear favorite for the game.
The Bears are one of only 19 teams to have already won 25 games this season, are ranked among the nation’s top 25 in both field-goal percentage and points per game, and have won eight of their last 12 games away from home.
Perhaps the Mercer men’s basketball team will be the talk of the nation after the game on Sunday. For live updates on the game from a student perspective, follow @MercerCluster or watch the game live on ESPN2.