FORT MYERS - Led by Tournament MVP senior Sherwood Brown's 22 points, the FGCU men's basketball team erased a 10-point halftime deficit with a huge second half to defeat Toledo, 72-66, on Thanksgiv-ing night in the Championship game of the Battle 4 Atlantis hosted by FGCU. With the win, FGCU earns an automatic invitation into the 2016 Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.
Playing their third game in five days, the Eagles now stand at 4-2 heading into Saturday's 7:30 p.m. tilt at BIG EAST foe St. John's (3-2) which can be seen live on ESPN3.com. The 4-2 start is FGCU's best in its Division I history (2007-current).
"This was a big game for us tonight because it was for the Battle 4 Atlantis Championship and the win now gives us an automatic berth in the Bahamas Tournament in 2016," said head coach Andy Enfield, who has led FGCU to a 13-5 record at home over his two seasons. "Winning this championship is a tremendous accomplishment for our program and hopefully we can build off of this heading into St. John's on Saturday."
Trailing 37-27 at the half, the Eagles out-scored Toledo (1-4) 45-29 in the second half led by Brown pouring in 17 of his team-best 22 points. The Eagles shot just 36 percent (8-22) in the opening 20 minutes, but responded with a torrid 60 percent (18-30) performance in the second half. As it has done all season, FGCU attacked the rim, owning a 30-4 edge in points in the paint in the second half and 40-14 for the game.
Brown's 22-point night was the sixth 20-point game of his career, as he knocked down 8-of-12 from the field, including 3-of-6 from three-point land, en route to being named the Tournament MVP. Sophomore Eric McKnight and All-Tournament team selection Chase Fieler also reached double figures with 15 and 10 points, respectively.
The other glaring differences in the second half came on the boards and in transition, both of which jump-started FGCU on the offensive end. The Green and Blue out-rebounded Toledo, 24-11, in the second half leading to an 8-0 advantage in second chance points, while it scored 12 fast break points that featured five dunks and eight for the game. The 45-point second half was FGCU's second-highest point total in a half this season.
Sophomore Bernard Thompson had a big hand in the previously mentioned second half keys, finishing with seven points, a game-high 11 rebounds and equaling a career-best five steals, which he established at Duke last Sunday. McKnight added seven rebounds to his 15 points, while sophomore Brett Comer (Winter Park, Fla./Winter Park HS) was a big part of the fast break points with seven assists and seven points.
With Toledo holding a 37-27 lead at the break, FGCU opened the second half on a 7-0 run to cut it to a one-possession game, but the Rockets built its lead back up to seven on a bunch of occasions with the final coming with 11:26 to play, at 56-49.
The game changed over the next 6:32, as FGCU held Toledo scoreless and scored the game's next 12 points to turn a seven-point deficit into a five-point lead, at 61-58. A lob from Thompson to Fieler tied the game at 56-56 and forced the Rockets to call a timeout. The Eagles took their first lead since the 18:05 mark of the opening half on its next possession, as it was McKnight's turn to catch an alley-oop from Comer to make it 58-56.
Toledo cut it to a two-point game, 68-66, with 20 seconds remaining, but a miscommunication during its full court press allowed Brown to leak out for the long pass en route to the breakaway dunk and a two-possession game.
The Rockets were led by Rian Pearson, who scored 20 of his game-high 28 points in the second half en route to also being named to the All-Tournament team. Julius Brown also finished in double figures with 12 points and also earned a spot on the All-Tournament squad.
For the game, FGCU shot an even 50 percent (26-52), while Toledo finished at a 44 percent clip (26-59). The Eagles owned a 38-27 edge on the glass and shot 18 more free throws than the Rockets.