Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Dunk City nearing NCAA trip— again

Different team, different coach, different situation.

Same Dunk City magic. At least, that's what Florida Gulf Coast hopes is the case.

The team that stole the show over the first week or so of last season's NCAA tournament — reaching the Sweet 16 as a No. 15 seed that ran and dunked with so much flair that it rebranded the school almost overnight — has the Big Dance within reach again, now just two home wins away from getting back to the field of 68.

The Eagles (21-11) play host to East Tennessee State (18-14) in the semifinals of the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament tonight, and a win in that game means the title game would be back in Fort Myers, or Dunk City, on Sunday.

And, yes, this team still has some of the swagger left from last spring.

"I feel like when we play the right way, no matter what, nobody's going to be able to beat us," FGCU guard Brett Comer said.

He was asked to clarify — did he mean nobody in the Atlantic Sun, or nobody, period?

"Whatever you guys want to write it down as," a smiling Comer told a roomful of reporters after the Eagles topped Stetson in Tuesday's Atlantic Sun quarterfinals. "Whatever you guys say."

FGCU lost some of the key players from last season's team, coach Andy Enfield to USC and entered the A-Sun tournament as the No. 1 seed, unlike a year ago when the Eagles were considered a bit of an underdog.

Not this time. That bulls-eye has been on Dunk City from Game 1 of the season. And the strains seemed to show early on, but the Eagles are 15-4 in their last 19 games and look to be peaking when it matters.

"They are a formidable opponent," said Stetson coach Corey Williams, "and they are going to do well."

Williams' team lost by 22 points on Tuesday night, getting into an early 33-13 deficit and never getting itself out of trouble. His team missed a ton of easy shots early, playing right into FGCU's hands.

In short, Williams knew that a team with as much postseason savvy as FGCU wouldn't need much help.

"Those guys are experienced," Williams said. "They've been there, done that, got the T-shirt. … When you go to the Sweet 16 like they did, that becomes very valuable. Very valuable."

Make no mistake, Dunk City still dunks, preferring an up-tempo style with plenty of emphasis on 3-pointers and ringing up plenty of points.

But overlooked last season, and probably again this season, is defense is emphasized as much as the dunks are celebrated.

"These guys will be the first to tell you, because I wasn't here last year, that when they got good defensively is when they got good," said FGCU coach Joe Dooley, the Kansas assistant who took over at Dunk City following Enfield's departure. "I think there's got to be a bunch of different ways to win. You're not always going to score."

Many of the 4,500 or so in the sold-out arena were wearing shirts paying some sort of homage to last season's Sweet 16 run.

The A-Sun quarterfinals were all business for the Eagles, who know another NCAA chance is out there. They also know that a loss now would take it all away in a hurry.

"It brings back some memories, but for the most part we're trying to make new memories," said forward Chase Fieler, probably FGCU's biggest key on both ends of the floor.

That's why, Comer said, being a No. 1 seed now isn't making the Eagles think the NCAA trip is assured. Plus, they've already lost to East Tennessee once this season, so overlooking them on Thursday seems unlikely.

"At the end of the day you've got to come out and play, no matter what seed you are," Comer said. "I think that's something we kind of proved last year."

Comments
Candidates rush to fill void left by Murmanís withdrawal from District 7

Candidates rush to fill void left by Murmanís withdrawal from District 7

TAMPA – The chance to run for an open seat on the Hillsborough County Commission doesn't come along often.That might explain why there are now 10 wannabe commissioners vying for the countywide District 7 seat.Democrat Mark Nash became the ...
Updated: 8 minutes ago
Tech Data sending a record 700 employees to march in Pride Parade

Tech Data sending a record 700 employees to march in Pride Parade

Among the marching bands and twirlers at Saturdayís St. Pete Pride Parade, one major sponsor, Tech Data, is sending by far a record number of employees ó more than 700 at last count ó to march in Floridaís largest gay pride parade.The parade, which d...
Updated: 11 minutes ago
RuPaulís Drag Race star Coco Montrese on St. Pete Pride, the Pulse shooting and compassion from police

RuPaulís Drag Race star Coco Montrese on St. Pete Pride, the Pulse shooting and compassion from police

Coco Montrese is best known as the RuPaulís Drag Race Season 5 lip-sync queen who came back a record four times to win with fierce performances. But longtime Tampa Bay drag performer Kori Stevens just calls Coco a "hometown girl." As head of entertai...
Updated: 27 minutes ago
Leading Democrat challenging Bilirakis in Congress calls for investigation into Trumpís policy separating migrant children

Leading Democrat challenging Bilirakis in Congress calls for investigation into Trumpís policy separating migrant children

The leading Democrat running to unseat Republican congressman Gus Bilirakis in District 12 called on Congress Tuesday to form a joint oversight committee to investigate potential civil violations within the Trump administration's zero ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
They usually avoid controversy, but every living first lady has condemned border separations

They usually avoid controversy, but every living first lady has condemned border separations

Every living first lady - including Melania Trump - has condemned the policy of separating immigrant families caught illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. It is a rare moment of bipartisan unity from the women who make up the small sorority of p...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Tampa Bay Timesí all-Tampa Bay boys soccer players of the year

Tampa Bay Timesí all-Tampa Bay boys soccer players of the year

Hillsborough player of the year: F Eric Ugarte, Sr., Plant CityThe numbers: Ugarte scored 21 goals and added 11 assists to lead the Raiders to their first state title in soccer. He scored 71 goals in his career.Something about Eric: The skilled ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Rays continue to struggle in close games

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Rays continue to struggle in close games

The Rays blow a four-run lead in Houston and lose on a walkoff hit to the Astros in the opener of their three-game series. It's the 19th one-run loss for the Rays this season as they continue to struggle in close games. Fortunately, reinforcements ar...
Updated: 1 hour ago
This is the immigration compound Bill Nelson will visit at noon

This is the immigration compound Bill Nelson will visit at noon

The Trump administration has reopened a 1,000-bed Homestead facility that once housed minors who entered the country illegally and alone, reviving a compound at a time when the White House is under fire for a new policy that separates children from p...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Tampa Bay Timesí all-Tampa Bay girls soccer players of the year

Tampa Bay Timesí all-Tampa Bay girls soccer players of the year

Pinellas Player of the Year: MF Mary Raymond, Jr., Palm Harbor UniversityThe numbers: Raymond scored 13 goals and added seven assists. She spent the first part of the season as the central defender.Something about Mary: Raymond is the type of pl...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Afghan officials in Pakistan for talks on peace efforts

Afghan officials in Pakistan for talks on peace efforts

An Afghan official says top security officials are in Pakistan for talks on reviving the peace process with the Taliban
Updated: 1 hour ago