March Madness got more maddening over the weekend, with Florida Gulf Coast University – a small college just two years in Division I – advancing to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament in a development that jolted the college basketball landscape.
Only during this tournament can something this outlandish happen. FGCU was a virtual unknown until it manhandled No. 2-seeded Georgetown on Friday and dominated San Diego State Sunday in a rash of free-wheeling dunks that charged many in-game celebrations.
The Eagles’ 81-71 victory was history; they became the first 15th-seeded team to advance to the regional semifinals. Norfolk State was the last No. 15 team to pull an upset, knocking off Missouri in a bracket-busting upset. But the Spartans lost to Florida in the next game.
Conversely, Florida Gulf Coast got better in its second game. Simply, the Eagles dominated San Diego State, using a 17-0 run in the second half to blow open a close game. The final eight minutes of game was a coronation of this year’s Cinderella team, with FGCU’s talented team fashioning highlight reel material above the rim.
”We don’t take ourselves too seriously,” said Florida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield, whose players tossed him in the air and doused him with water in a raucous celebration before his postgame interviews. ”We try to have fun, get serious when we have to.
”Our goal was to make history and we did it.”
The team in Ft. Myers, Florida was led by guard Bernard Thompson, who had 23 points and forward Sherwood Brown added 16 for the team that one the Atlanta Sun title. Next up for the Eagles is another seemingly formidable challenge Friday night: the No. 3-seeded Florida Gators.
”We tried to scrimmage them early in the season in the preseason,” Enfield said. ”Now we get our shot.”
The Eagles shot down Georgetown, despite 23 points by star Hoyas point gaurd Markel Starks, with a 21-2 run that busted open the game. The 17 unanswered points against the Aztecs was just as demoralizing. The crowd in Philadelphia, sensing something special happened, threw its support around the upstarts, which helped fuel them.
And they basked in the adulation, playing to the crowd with each daring foray to the basket of high-flying slam dunk.
”We’re all about having fun and also playing really hard and that’s something we like to do, we like to get the crowd involved,” Brown, the A-Sun’s player of the year, said. ”The whole crowd got behind us even if they are not from Fort Myers, or as I like to say, ‘Dunk City.”’
”I know I can say for all the players, this was the biggest game for us. None of us have played on this stage,” point guard Brett Comer, who had 13 assists, said. ”We are blessed to be here.”