Thursday, February 22, 2018
Sports

Florida Gulf Coast upsets SDSU, makes NCAA Sweet 16

PHILADELPHIA — Florida Gulf Coast became the first 15th seed to reach the Sweet 16, and the Eagles not only made it look easy Sunday night, they made it look fun.

Little-known FGCU beat San Diego State 81-71, its second NCAA Tournament upset of the weekend. Just like in an opening win over No. 2 seed Georgetown on Friday — the Eagles' calling card to the nation — there were plenty of laughs, dunks and dances.

"We don't take ourselves too seriously," said coach Andy Enfield, whose players tossed him in the air and doused him with water in a raucous celebration. "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 Estero near Fort Myers, FGCU opened in 1997. The university only became eligible for postseason play last year. Now the upstart school faces the Sunshine State's flagship university, No. 3 seed Florida, on Friday night in the South Region semifinals in Dallas.

"We tried to scrimmage them early in the season in the preseason," Enfield said. "Now we get our shot."

FGCU, which at 2-0 remains the only undefeated team in NCAA Tournament history, is the first to win at least two games in its first NCAA appearance since Florida in 1987, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

"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."

Bernard Thompson had 23 points and Sherwood Brown added 17 for FGCU.

On Friday, the 15th-seeded Eagles busted brackets everywhere with a win over Georgetown, taking control with a 21-2 run in the second half.

It went much the same way against seventh-seeded San Diego State (23-11).

This time the run was 17-0, and the Eagles led 71-52 with 4:19 to play.

Even when the game was tight, the Eagles waved their arms and played along with a lively crowd that came to see an upset. There were big smiles, high-fives and 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 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.

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.

After the game, the whole team joined in a bird dance.

"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."

Kansas rallies past North Carolina 70-58

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Behind the impassioned play of Travis Releford and Jeff Withey, top-seeded Kansas shook off a first-half slumber and blitzed No. 8 seed North Carolina down the stretch for a 70-58 victory in the third round.

Withey had 16 points and 16 rebounds, and Releford finished with 22 points for the Jayhawks (31-5), who also knocked former KU coach Roy Williams' team out of the tournament in 2008 and again last season.

The Tar Heels (25-11) forced 12 turnovers and one of their worst shooting performances of the season in taking a 30-21 halftime lead. But Kansas, playing 40 miles from its campus in Lawrence, outscored UNC 49-28 in the second half.

"We made some bonehead plays, especially me. I had six turnovers myself," Withey said. "But in the second half we got a better feel for them, what they were going to do."

Asked about what must have been a blistering halftime talk, Jayhawks coach Bill Self grinned and said: "I told them, 'Hey, just keep doing what we're doing, we'll be fine.' ... Our basketball IQ in the first half wasn't very good. In the second half, we were a better team."

P.J. Hairston scored 15 for the Tar Heels (25-11).

Williams, who coached the Jayhawks for 15 seasons and led them to four Final Fours, heard a mix of polite cheers and loud boos from the pro-Kansas crowd during pregame introductions, and barbs continued during the game.

"We lost to another basketball team," Williams said. "The fact that I coached here for 15 years is extremely important to me, but it doesn't add anything to today.''

Williams said of the Kansas turnaround: "They were phenomenal in the second half. We didn't have the same energy, and they picked theirs up a little bit more. They started making shots, and we couldn't stop them."

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