Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles soar over San Diego State into Sweet 16, make history

 

Special to The Miami Herald

NCAA TOURNAMENT | NO. 15 FGCU 81, NO. 7 San Diego State 71

Cinderella, they’re not. Because that’s only make-believe. And clearly there’s nothing imaginary about Florida Gulf Coast University, which Sunday night became the first No. 15 seed in NCAA history to punch its ticket to the Sweet 16.

The high flying Eagles, who specialize in crowd pleasing dunks and other feats of athleticism, did it in style, running off 17 unanswered points midway through the second half to send San Diego State packing 81-71. As a result, Andy Enfield upstarts have earned a coveted date with Billy Donovan’s Florida Gators on Friday at Texas Stadium.

For a while it appeared the dream might come crashing down on the Eagles, who trailed for the first time in 22 games 35-34. The Aztecs were hanging with them shot for shot, down only 54-52 with 11 minutes left, when FGCU took control.

By the time they finished stealing the ball, blocking shots, getting out on the break for spectacular dunks and layups and draining three-pointers, the Eagles knew they were on their way to Dallas.

Perhaps by then, or maybe the following week when the Final Four convenes in Atlanta, the folks at CBS will learn their name is not Florida Golf Coast or SDSU’s losing coach Steve Fisher won’t refer to them saying “Florida State has a very, very good team.”

Then again Enfield & Co. probably don’t even care.

“Words can’t describe the feeling right now,” said home-grown point guard Brett Comer, who scored 10 points and handed out 13 assists, many of them leading to dunks. “I don’t think it’s really sunk in.

“We’re on such an emotional high. When we get our energy going, get some dunks and some stops on defense it’s hard to turn the momentum back.”

The stunned Aztecs weren’t about to argue, having seen firsthand what the Eagles can do once they get on a roll. Once Brown returned to the lineup with three fouls — after FGCU had outscored them 16-13 with him on the bench — they took command.

“We just said keep pushing the ball,” Comer said. “Attack! Attack! Attack!

“We got a lot of stops and contested every shot and got some blocks. When Sherwood went back in the game it definitely gave us a lift.’’

There were plenty of heroes for the Eagles (26-12), with five players hitting double figures, topped by Bernard Thompson who had a game-high 23 points and Brown adding 17.

And as much as they loved doing it, so did the Philadelphia crowd, which seldom saw much to like about its NFL Eagles, who finished a dismal 4-12 in 2012. These Eagles were a different story.

“The crowd got behind us,” smiled Brown, who was mugging for the cameras and slapping high fives with commentator Reggie Miller afterwards. “Even though we’re not in Fort Myers, or ‘Dunk City’ as we call it.”

Now they say it’s time to relocate.

“Dunk City is coming to Arlington [Texas],” declared Thompson in the midst of the post-game media interrogation. “So everyone be ready.”

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