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NCAA Roundup: Florida Gulf Coast becomes first 15th seed to reach Sweet 16

AUSTIN TX - MARCH 24:  Tracy Abrams #13 Illinois Fighting Illini goes up against Julian Gamble #45 Miami Hurricanes

AUSTIN, TX - MARCH 24: Tracy Abrams #13 of the Illinois Fighting Illini goes up against Julian Gamble #45 of the Miami Hurricanes in the first half during the third round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at The Frank Erwin Center on March 24, 2013 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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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 main campus, 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 its first-ever NCAA tournament game on Friday, the 15th-seeded Eagles busted brackets everywhere with their win over Georgetown, a game in which the Eagles 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.”

The notoriously tough Philly fans sure loved them back. 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.”

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, who knows about players with attitude, having led the Fab Five to consecutive national championship games at Michigan. “You can have that look and feel, but you have to compete and play to earn your spurs, and they’ve done that.”

Comer, who didn’t have as many lob passes for dunks as he did against the Hoyas, 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.”

FGCU even unleashed another offensive weapon. Christophe Varidel, a native of Switzerland, hit two big 3s early for the Eagles and finished with 11 points after going scoreless against Georgetown.

“If we can get him open shots, he’s as good a shooter as I’ve seen,” Enfield said. “He stepped up tonight and helped us and we needed that because Sherwood Brown was in early foul trouble.”

Jamal Franklin had 20 points and 11 rebounds for the seventh-seeded Aztecs (23-11), who were trying to reach the regional semifinals for the second time in three years.

Franklin spoke with Brown after the game.

“I just told him just keep being the leader that he is, make sure the ball is in his hands, make sure he does what he has to do to keep his team rolling,” Franklin said.

Xavier Thames’ layup brought the Aztecs within 54-52 with 11:33 to play but the Eagles were off on their spurt about 90 seconds later. FGCU held San Diego State without a field goal for more than 7 minutes as it again pulled away again from a team with much bigger national profile.

“We just tried to keep a steady pace and tried to wear them down. We think we can play with anybody in the country,” center Chase Fieler said. “When we got the running game going it felt like a home game.”

The Eagles shot 55.9 percent for the game (33 of 59), including going 7 of 18 from 3-point range.

The Aztecs finished at 44.3 percent (27 of 61) and were 8 of 23 from beyond the arc.

“They ran. They ran hard, they ran consistent, and they ran effectively,” Fisher said. “They’re playing with a kind of momentum that they have earned.”

FGCU had one of its highlight plays in the first half when Comer flipped the ball up toward the rim and a flying Eric McKnight grabbed it for a one-hand jam with 8:50 to play that woke up the crowd.

Suddenly it sounded a lot like Friday night, when the Eagles had several jams on lob passes that were a big part of the Georgetown upset.

McKnight was asked if that was his best dunk.

“I don’t rate them,” he said, “but it was one of my best ones.”

MIDWEST BRACKET

DUKE 66, Creighton 50

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Rasheed Sulaimon scored 21 points, Seth Curry scored had 17 and No. 2 seed Duke held off seventh-seeded Creighton 66-50 on Sunday to advance to the round of 16 for the fourth time in five years.

A year after they lost their NCAA tournament opener, the Blue Devils (29-5) are back in the regional semifinal for the 23rd time. They’ll play No. 3 seed Michigan State (27-8) in the regional semifinal Friday in Indianapolis.

Mason Plumlee, Josh Hariston and Ryan Kelly battled foul trouble all game long that could have doomeed the Blue Devils. Creighton (28-8) went cold and never made a serious run in the second half. Doug McDermott scored 21 points but made only four baskets.

With McDermott slumping, the Bluejays were knocked out in the third round by an ACC team for the second straight season.

SOUTH BRACKET

Kansas got the best of former coach Roy Williams and North Carolina once again.

Behind the impassioned play of Travis Releford and Jeff Withey, the top-seeded Jayhawks shook themselves out of a first-half slumber and blitzed the eighth-seeded Tar Heels in the second half en route to a 70-58 victory Sunday in the third round of the South Regional in Kansas City, Mo.

Releford had 22 points and Withey 16 points and 16 rebounds for Kansas (31-5), which also knocked Williams and North Carolina (25-11) out of the NCAA tournament in 2008 and again last season.

The Tar Heels harassed the Jayhawks into a dozen turnovers and one of their worst shooting performances of the season in opening a 30-21 lead at the break. But they buckled in the second half as Kansas, playing only 40 miles from its campus in Lawrence, turned up the pressure. The Jayhawks outscored North Carolina 49-28 after halftime and will face fourth-seeded Michigan in the regional semifinals Friday in Arlington, Texas.

P.J. Hairston scored 15 points and James Michael McAdoo 11 for the Tar Heels.

Florida 78, Minnesota 64

Mike Rosario scored 25 points, and the third-seeded Gators (28-7) used an overpowering first half to roll past the 11th-seeded Golden Gophers (21-13) in a third-round game in Austin, Texas.

The result moved Florida, which shot 65 percent in the first half and led by 21 points at halftime, into the Sweet 16 for the third consecutive season. The Gators will face 15th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast in an intrastate showdown in the regional semifinals Friday in Arlington, Texas.

Andre Hollins scored 25 points to lead Minnesota. His three-point shooting sparked a second-half rally that pulled the Gophers to seven points, but Rosario’s sixth three-pointer with three minutes left pushed Florida’s lead back to 16 and effectively sealed the victory.

WEST BRACKET

Aaron Craft made a tiebreaking three-pointer with a half-second left to lift second-seeded Ohio State to a 78-75 victory Sunday against 10th-seeded Iowa State in the West Regional in Dayton, Ohio.

The Buckeyes (28-7) needed Craft’s only three-pointer of the game — an arching shot over 6-7 defender Georges Niang from the top of the key — to avoid yet another upset in the wild West Regional. Four of the top five seeds, including top-seeded Gonzaga, lost on the first weekend of the tournament.

Ohio State frittered away a late 13-point lead, but Craft delivered the game-winner in the final second to send the Buckeyes into the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive season. They’ll play sixth-seeded Arizona on Thursday in Los Angeles.

‘‘I tried to stay as poised as possible,’’ said Craft, who helped fuel the Cyclones’ comeback by missing the front end of two one-and-ones. ‘‘Missed a lot of shots I normally make, layups and free throws. Got a mismatch, took the ball and it went in.’’

Iowa State (23-12) overcame its late deficit with three-pointers but wound up being beaten by Craft’s lone basket from behind the arc. Craft missed a jumper with 30 seconds left, but the Cyclones knocked the ball out of bounds going for the rebound. Ohio State spread the floor for the final play, which ended with Craft’s game-winner.

Deshaun Thomas led Buckeyes with 22 points, and Craft added 18. Korie Lucious scored 19 points to lead Iowa State, but he didn’t come close on a final heave after Craft’s three-pointer.

‘‘What they’ve done, what they’ve accomplished, words can’t describe,’’ Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg said of his players. ‘‘They left their heart on the floor.’’

La Salle 76, Mississippi 74

Tyrone Garland broke a tie with a driving layup with 2.5 seconds left, and the 13th-seeded Explorers (24-9) edged the 12th-seeded Rebels (27-9) in Kansas City, Mo., to earn a Sweet 16 berth opposite ninth-seeded Wichita State on Thursday in Los Angeles.

Ramon Galloway scored 24 points, Tyreek Duren 19 and Garland 17 for La Salle. Marshall Henderson led four players in double figures with 21 points for Ole Miss.



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