Florida Gulf Coast becomes first 15 seed in NCAA Tournament history to advance to Sweet 16
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PHILADELPHIA -- Florida Gulf Coast University didn't just become the first 15th seed in the NCAA Tournament to reach the Sweet 16. The high-flying Eagles did it with style and panache courtesy of Brett Comer's no-look passes and the acrobatics at the rim of Bernard Thompson, Sherwood Brown and Co. that had the Wells Fargo Center crowd roaring with delight.
Coach Andy Enfield said you have to have fun to play for him, and the Eagles certainly did as they scored an 81-71 win over San Diego State Sunday night and put themselves in the South Regional in Arlington, Texas, where they will face Florida. You know, the state school that doesn't need any descriptive adjectives.
FGCU (26-10) requires lots of adjectives. The key was a mind-blowing, 27-6 second-half run that ended with 17 unanswered points for a 71-52 lead. One minute, the Aztecs (23-11) led by two and were playing with a hard edge, and the next, they were wondering what hit them.
"It's easy to play with a bunch of guys when they're on the same page with you,'' Brown said. "We're all about having fun. You saw that over the course of the game the whole crowd got behind us, even if they are not from Fort Myers, or as I like to say, 'Dunk City.' ''
Four Aztecs turnovers got it started. Comer threw a couple of inventive passes for layups, and then his teammates were knocking down threes and flying to the rim. Eric McKnight had four of their six rim-rocking dunks.
Coach Steve Fisher was so shaken afterward that he mistakenly referred to FGCU as "Florida State.'' Fisher said his team's season ended "with a train wreck. We got anxious and added to it, and then they were running downhill.''
Comer had a season-high 14 assists as he orchestrated an attack featuring Thompson (23 points), Brown 17, Chase Fieler (11) and Christophe Varidel (11). The Eagles shot 55.9 percent, had 21 assists and a 21-8 edge in fast-break points. Jamaal Franklin (20 points) led the Aztecs.
Comer provided a hint of what was coming in the first half when he flipped up a short-range alley-oop to a trailing 6-9 McKnight, who threw down a powerful tomahawk dunk at lightning speed, rousing the crowd in the same fashion as they did against Georgetown.
"This is the biggest game of our career that we won tonight,'' Comer said. "None of us have been on this stage. But we pushed the ball so fast that sometimes it does get out of control. Once I got stuck in the air and Bernard cut backdoor perfectly and got an easy one. I made a bad pass to Eric, and he made a top-10 dunk.''
It's hard to believe this is the same team that lost at St. John's early in the season. But now, you would never figure the Eagles for a low-major team.
"Words can't describe the feeling of being the first No. 15 seed ever to do this,'' Comer said. "We're on such an emotional high it's hard to come down.''