PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Florida Gulf Coast became the first 15 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 in 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 postseason play last year. Now the next opponent for the upstart state school will be the system’s flagship university, third-seeded Florida, on Friday night in the South Regional semifinal 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-ever 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 of it. When it was over the Eagles led 71-52 with 4:19 to play 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.
Even when the game was tight, he and his teammates looked they were glad to be on the court. The Eagles waved their arms and played along with a lively crowd that came to see an upset. There were big smiles and high-fives.
In short, they showed a kind of joy that’s often missing from high stakes, high drama games in March.
"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 A-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.’"
It turns out a rap video called "Dunk City" sprang up overnight in praise of the Eagles.
The notoriously tough Philly fans jumped on the bandwagon, too. One seated behind the FGCU bench held a sign — "Fly, Eagles, Fly!" — the motto of the NFL team that plays across the street from the Wells Fargo Center.
And after it was all over, the whole team joined in a bird dance that the players on the bench had been doing during the game.
"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."