They’re not laughing at Florida Gulf Coast University now.
Not after the school by the beach that virtually no one had heard of until this week built a 19-point, second-half lead over supposedly mighty Georgetown, then withstood a furious Hoyas’ rally in the last three minutes to pull off the stunner of the NCAA Tournament, 78-68 in Philadelphia.
In the process not only did the Eagles wreck millions of brackets, but they became the seventh No. 15 seed to knock off a No. 2 in NCAA history.
And they did it convincingly.
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FGCU’s dazzling 21-2 run early in the second half, turning a 31-31 tie into a commanding 52-33 lead proved the difference. During that stretch the Eagles did everything, knocking down three three-pointers, springing their big men loose for three dunks courtesy of some spectacular passes, all while keeping the Hoyas in check at the other end of the floor.
Georgetown never recovered, though the Hoyas did manage to close the gap to 72-68 in the final minute when Markel Starks drained back-to-back three-pointers, before FGCU calmly put it away at the line to advance to a meeting against San Diego State.
Presumably by then the Eagles and their rabid followers will have come back to earth.
“I told them before the game, ‘Georgetown’s ranked eighth in the country, but after you get on the court for 2-3 minutes you’ll realize you’re just as good or better than they are,’ ” Eagles coach Andy Enfield said once the celebration died down. “We played Georgetown style the first half. They made us play their style.
“But when we went in at halftime [leading 24-22, after falling behind early 18-11], I said, ‘We had to play FGCU basketball the second half. Push the ball and play up tempo.’
“We’re built for our style. We’re not built to grind it out every possession. The guys did a great job early on and we went on that run. They came back and if it was last year, it might’ve been a different story. We showed a lot of maturity.”
There were heroes all over the place for the Eagles, with guards Sherwood Brown and Bernard Thompson scoring 24 and 23 points respectively, each knocking down three shots from beyond the arc. Brett Comer added 12, while handing out 10 assists, including a lob for a Chase Fieler dunk that brought the house down.
Through it all, though, FGCU made sure not to relax, knowing the relentless Hoyas would keep coming at them.
“After we had that run and were up 19, I looked at the clock and saw there were still 14 minutes left,” said Brown, who hit four consecutive free throws down the stretch to help finish off the Hoyas. “I figured we’d better start playing defense.
“I knew as fast as we went on a run, they can go on a run. We felt we had nothing to lose. Georgetown had all the pressure on them.”
And the Hoyas seemed to crumble under the weight of that pressure, shooting just 37.5 percent from the field and going just 7 for 27 from three-point range. Still, after what seemed to be a comfortable 62-47 cushion was reduced to 72-68 when Starks drilled a three-pointer with 52.4 seconds left, FGCU maintained its poise to finish off the biggest win in the school’s brief history.
“This means a lot for our university,” smiled Fieler. “It’s an unbelievable feeling. We showed great heart. It’s unbelievable to be able to win this game and keep playing.”