High-Flying Eagles Become the First No. 15 Seed to Advance to the Regional Semifinals
By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
PHILADELPHIA—If you actually had Florida Gulf Coast University advancing to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, you are either a psychic, some lucky little old lady who just likes the color of their uniforms or you’re just a damned liar.
With the Wells Fargo Center crowd behind them, Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles continued their improbable run through the 2013 NCAA Tournament by knocking off San Diego State Aztecs 81-71 or a trip to the South Region Semifinals in Arlington, Texas.
“We’re going to the Sweet 16,” said a smiling FGCU head coach Andy Enfield. “I haven’t cried yet. I might cry tomorrow. But it’s just a great feeling, so proud of these players, what we’ve been through for the last two years only the second year of eligibility. It really speaks volumes.”
After their stunning upset of Georgetown on Friday night, which included an Eagles chant normally reserved for the city’s football team, Florida Gulf Coast became “America’s Team” with another win over a higher-seeded team.
“It’s indescribable, we’re all on such a high right now,” Eagles sophomore point guard Brett Comer. “We feel like we can beat anybody the way we’re playing right now. It seemed like a home game for us. The whole arena was behind us.”
The Eagles (26-10) will take on No. 3 seed and in-state rival Florida for a chance to go to the Elite Eight. Florida Gulf Coast University, based in Fort Myers, Fla., is the first No. 15 seed since tournament seeding began back in 1979 to earn a trip to the regional semifinals.
“It’s real big, it’s good for our program, our school, it’s good for the whole city of Fort Myers,” said sophomore guard Bernard Thompson, who scored a game-high 23 points. “We’re on the map now. It was an emotional win for the coaches as well as their players. For a 15th seed to go the Sweet 16, it’s just an amazing feeling.”
San Diego State, champions of the Mountain West Conference, saw its season end at 23-11.
If you’ve learned anything from this weekend about FGCU, you now know that this team is for real and then some. Leading 54-52 with 11: 30 left in the game, The Eagles broke open a close game with a 17-0 scoring spurt with a dazzling transition game with dunks and easy layups that ran the Aztecs out of the gym and into the off-season.
“We turned up our intensity,” said Comer, who finished the game 10 points and 14 assists. “We want to push the ball down the court and we want to attack, attack, and that’s what coach wants us to do and we do a great job of doing that, so we’re going to be in attack mode for the entire game.”
San Diego State head coach Steve Fisher said the Eagles run took them out of their rhythm on both sides of the floor.
“You miss two or three shots in a row and give them two or three straight baskets,” Fisher said. “The whole way you approach it, if you’re not careful, can cause you to be not as thoughtful in how you play. Give them angles to drive, gamble a little bit and every time we did that, they took advantage.”
The Eagles second half scoring-spurt reminded veteran reporters of Houston’s 16-0 run against Louisville in the 1983 Final Four because of all the easy dunks and layups that Florida Gulf Coast used to put the Aztecs away.
Granted, the kids from Florida Gulf Coast University may not know anything about Clyde Drexler and Phi Slamma Jamma, but they have their own sense of swag and have even come up with their own nickname.
“Dunk City is coming to Arlington, so everybody be ready,” Thompson said at the end of the postgame press conference. “It’s FGCU basketball if you don’t know, now you know,”
Thompson and teammate Sherwood Brown, who scored 17 points and pulled down eight rebounds, both said when Florida Gulf Coast has their transition game going at home; they like to get the crowd involved. That was something that they did throughout the weekend.
“We’re all about having fun and also playing really hard,” Brown said. “We like to get the crowd involved and you saw that over the course of the game. The whole crowd got behind us even if they’re not from Fort Myers or as we like to say, “Dunk City.”