PHILADELPHIA – Florida Gulf Coast became the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16, and the Eagles not only made it look easy, they made it look fun.
Little-known FGCU beat San Diego State 81-71 on Sunday night, its second NCAA tournament upset of the weekend. Just like their opening win over second-seeded Georgetown — the Eagles’ calling card to the nation — there were plenty of laughs, dunks and dances.
“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.”
With its campus in Fort Myers, Florida Gulf Coast opened its doors to students in 1997. The university only became eligible for NCAA Division I postseason play last year. Now, the next opponent for the upstart state school will be the system’s flagship university, third-seeded Florida, in the South Regional semifinals Friday in Dallas.
“We tried to scrimmage them early in the season in the preseason,” Enfield said. “Now we get our shot.”
Bernard Thompson had 23 points and Sherwood Brown added 17 for FGCU, the Atlantic Sun champion.
In their first NCAA tournament game on Friday, the 15th-seeded Eagles busted brackets everywhere with a win over Georgetown, a game in which they took control with a 21-2 run in the second half.
It went much the same way against seventh-seeded San Diego State.
This time the run was 17-0, and Brown, who was saddled early in the second half with foul trouble, had eight of the first 10 points. When it was over, the Eagles led 71-52 with 4:19 remaining, and the only decisions left were how the players and fans were going to celebrate.
Brown stuck out his tongue after every big basket, often in the direction of the hundreds of Eagles fans jammed into one section. The Eagles waved their arms and played along with a lively crowd that came to see an upset.
“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,” said Brown, the Atlantic Sun’s player of the year. “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 said. “We are blessed to be here.”
FGCU played like it had nothing to lose. And really, the Eagles didn’t. Given their school’s short history, nobody expected them to win a game at the NCAA tournament, let alone two.
“They play with a swagger, and they have a right to do that,” said San Diego State Coach Steve Fisher. “You can have that look and feel, but you have to compete and play to earn your spurs, and they’ve done that.”
Comer finished with 10 points and 14 assists, some of which resulted in dunks that had the crowd cheering and wanting more.
“We want to get out and run,” Comer said. “We’re just having so much fun.”