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Fla. Gulf Coast punches ticket to Big Dance

MACON, Ga. (AP) - Brett Comer scored 21 points and Florida Gulf Coast claimed the first NCAA tournament berth in school history, knocking off top-seeded Mercer 88-75 in the Atlantic Sun championship game Saturday.

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The second-seeded Eagles (24-10) became the first team in the 68-team field by snapping Mercer's 17-game home winning streak, tied for the sixth-longest in the nation. Sherwood Brown added 16 points and 11 rebounds as Florida Gulf Coast pulled away after a back-and-forth first half.

Brown sparked a 14-3 spurt that broke open the tight game, sending Florida Gulf Coast to the NCAAs in just their sixth season as a Division I program. The Eagles celebrated at midcourt, hugging and jumping around after getting their championship gear.

Travis Smith led Mercer with 16 points, but the Bears (23-11) couldn't overcome 39 percent (26 of 67) shooting from the field. They were denied their first NCAA bid since 1985.

Cheered on by a hometown crowd, Mercer raced out to an 11-3 lead and forced Florida Gulf Coast to call a quick timeout. After that, it was tight the rest of the opening half.

Led by Comer, the Eagles ripped off a 15-6 spurt to grab their first lead since the opening minutes, 18-17. The teams went back-and-forth, the lead changing hands 11 times before halftime. Florida Gulf Coast went to the locker room clinging to a 38-36 edge.

But the Eagles came out firing in the second half. Brown swished a 3-pointer and taunted the crowd, Comer knocked down another trey, and Bernard Thompson hit yet another 3. Just like that, Florida Gulf Coast had pushed out to a double-digit lead for the first time, 49-38.

Jakob's Gollon's basket capped a 10-4 spurt that was essentially Mercer's last gasp.

The Eagles followed a TV timeout with a miss, only to steal the ball back, setting up Brown for a layup. Brown scored two more baskets, including a 3, then Chase Fieler came up with another steal and went in for a jam, pushing Florida Gulf Coast to a 67-54 lead. The Eagles led by as many as 17 down the stretch and were never seriously challenged.

Brown made 4 of 5 from 3-point range. Fieler chipped in with 15 points for the Eagles, who shot 51 percent (30 of 59).

Gollon and teammate Bud Thomas scored 14 points.

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Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

Copyright 2017 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.
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