NCAA TOURNAMENT: Florida Gulf Coast's memorable run comes to an end
ARLINGTON, Texas — That high-flying act from “Dunk City” busted most everybody’s NCAA tournament brackets and left an indelible mark on March.
Bet you know what FGCU is now.
Florida Gulf Coast, the No. 15 seed few people knew much about only a week ago, had its improbable run to the NCAA round of 16 ended by a 62-50 loss late Friday night — actually only a few minutes before midnight. SEC regular-season champion Florida is headed to its third consecutive regional final.
“We definitely defied a lot of odds,” said Sherwood Brown, the dreadlocked guard who is Gulf Coast’s only senior starter. “Pretty much no one in the nation expected us to make it this far.”
Early against Florida, the Eagles (26-11) seemed even looser than they had in their victories over No. 2 seed Georgetown and No. 7 seed San Diego State. And they had a big run that came early this time.
Chase Fieler had 3-pointers to start and cap an 11-0 run, raising his hands in the air after the second that put Gulf Coast ahead 15-4 and led to a timeout by Florida coach Billy Donovan less than seven minutes into the game.
In between the 3s, Gulf Coast had some of the schoolyard-like plays that earned them that “Dunk City” moniker.
After Brett Comer stole a pass, he ran down the court and threw up an alley-oop pass for the trailing Brown, who delivered an emphatic slam that sent the announced crowd of more than 40,000 into a frenzy — except for those in Gator orange.
Comer then flipped another backward pass to Bernard Thompson for a 3-pointer before Fieler’s other 3.
“It was very exciting to get out to that big run, playing in the Sweet 16, playing the way we were playing early in the tournament against a great team in Florida,” Fieler said.
That run was so similar to extended spurts they had in upsetting No. 2 seed Georgetown and No. 7 seed San Diego State.
But the Gators (29-7) still had plenty of time — and know how to go on big runs of their own.
“I thought we did a great job of putting pressure and making those guys feel uncomfortable,” said Mike Rosario, who led Florida with 15 points.
The Eagles had 12 turnovers in the first half — one less than they had in each of their first two NCAA tourney games — and finished with 20.
Michael Frazier made a pair of 3-pointers from in front of the FGCU bench, the only baskets he made, to start a 16-0 run late in the first half.
That put the Gators in the lead to stay.
“As bad as we started off, I’m happy for my team that we fought back. They’re a second-half team. We did a good job of attacking them in the first 4 minutes of the second half,” said Kenny Boynton, whose three-point play sparked a quick 7-0 Gators run right after halftime.
The Gators will play Michigan in the South Regional final on that raised court at Cowboys Stadium on Sunday. They are trying to get to their first NCAA Final Four since consecutive national championships in 2006 and 2007.
Michigan overcame a 14-point deficit and knocked off No. 1 seed Kansas 87-85 in overtime earlier Friday night.
Brown led FGCU with 14 points, while Fieler had 12. Scottie Wilbekin had 13 points for Florida and Casey Prather 11.
This is the last chance for seniors Boynton and Erik Murphy to win a title of their own. And there was a business-like feel in the winning Florida locker room after the game.
On the other side, things weren’t all that bleak despite the disappointment of being done and matching a season low for points.
“It’s sad we lost tonight, but it was a great ride,” said post player Eddie Murray, the only other senior on the Gulf Coast roster. “It hurts right now but when you step back and look at it, it’s all been amazing.”
FGCU heads back to Fort Myers (a.k.a. Dunk City), where it has man-made lakes and a beach on campus, having given the tournament a blast of fresh air while its players were just having a blast. The South Florida state school also got about the best free publicity its administrators could ever hope for.
“It was great to see the excitement across the country with the underdog and it’s just a real feeling when you’re the underdog and you’re the talk of the nation,” coach Andy Enfield said. “Our plan wasn’t to become some great national story. Our plan was to go in and compete and win games. It was unbelievable to see the excitement and passion of not only our local community, the students, but also the national level.
“Our players believed, and they accomplished something special.”