FGCU returning to NCAA Tourney, tops Stetson 80-78 in OT
FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) Zach Johnson sat out last season at Florida Gulf Coast for medical reasons, with doctors so concerned about his health that some wondered if he would ever play college basketball.
He's better than ever now - and he and the Eagles are headed to the NCAA Tournament.
Antravious Simmons scored 21 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, Johnson capped his 19-point effort by blocking a potential game-tying shot at the rim with four seconds left in overtime, and fourth-seeded FGCU won the Atlantic Sun's automatic berth to the NCAAs by beating seventh-seeded and upset-minded Stetson 80-78 in the conference title game Sunday night.
''I'm just excited I can get the seniors a chance to go,'' Johnson said during the on-court celebration. ''A lot of them haven't been. And me, I'm a freshman, I haven't had a chance to go.''
Next week, that'll change. FGCU became the fifth school to punch its ticket into the field of 68.
Marc-Eddy Norelia scored 16 and Christian Terrell added 15, including a spinning layup with 56.4 seconds left in overtime for FGCU (20-13), which is headed back to the NCAAs for the first time since the team's ''Dunk City'' crew made a stunning run to the Sweet 16 in 2013.
''Great college atmosphere,'' FGCU coach Joe Dooley said. ''I think the league looked great on TV tonight ... a really good college basketball game, and I'm really proud of our guys.''
Derick Newton scored 22 for Stetson (12-22), which knew its season would end win or lose because the school is ineligible for the NCAAs this season.
Grant Lozoya and Divine Miles each scored 11 for the Hatters, but Miles' layup was the one Johnson blocked in the final moments.
''We still had a lot in the tank,'' Stetson coach Corey Williams said. ''But they stepped up and made big plays, too.''
FGCU trailed for much of the second half before using a 10-0 run late in the regulation to build a five-point lead. But the Hatters - helped by a pair of big 3-pointers from Lozoya and Leo Goodman - closed the half on a 9-4 run, then forced Johnson into a contested miss at the rim with 6 seconds left to force overtime.
FGCU scored the game's first 10 points, a run that started with a dunk from Demetris Morant and ended with a dunk from Johnson. However, Stetson recovered and went on a 16-4 run to take its first lead on a 3-pointer by Goodman.
And the teams stayed close from there. Stetson led 35-30 at the half, and neither team was up by more than five the rest of the way.
Stetson was ineligible for the NCAA Tournament this year because of a subpar Academic Progress Report score, caused in part by the effect that two players who transferred to other schools had on that score. So if the Hatters won, the A-Sun would have seen regular-season champion North Florida get the automatic berth into the NCAAs.
Stetson: The Hatters played 34 games this season, the most in school history. ... Stetson plans to add one scholarship player for 2016-17, plus bring back all 12 of its current players. ''We're going to take a week off,'' Williams said. ''We're going to get back to work because we want to get back here.''
FGCU: Redshirt senior Filip Cvjeticanin and assistant coach Michael Fly are the only members of the Eagles' roster and coaching staff who were at FGCU during the NCAA run in 2013. ... FGCU reached the 20-win mark for the fourth consecutive season.
Stetson was previously in the A-Sun title game in 1987 and 1994, losing both. FGCU has reached the A-Sun championship game four times in five years of eligibility since joining the conference, winning in 2013 and losing in 2012 and 2014.
Stetson: Season complete.
FGCU: NCAA Tournament, TBA.