Published January 13, 2015
Florida Gulf Coast can only hope its second weekend in the NCAA tournament is as much fun as its first.
The little-known Eagles made NCAA tournament history Sunday night, becoming the first 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16 — and they did it in style with a convincing 81-71 win over No. 7 San Diego State that had the Wells Fargo Center partying.
A couple of hours later, Duke joined them with a 66-50 win over Creighton — and a decidedly more subdued postgame celebration.
Both will have a tough time next weekend.
Second-seeded Duke gets No. 3 Michigan State in the Midwest Regional semifinals, while FGCU — the upstart state school — plays the system's flagship university, third-seeded Florida, in the South Regional semifinals at Dallas.
"We got a lot of exposure this weekend and now I'm sure it'll be increased," FGCU coach Andy Enfield said in one of the understatements of the tournament. "If you watched us play and know the personalities, it won't be a problem. They enjoy themselves. I think it's important for them to take this in. I want all our players to take a couple deep breaths and say, 'Wow, we're in the Sweet 16, we've accomplished a lot.'"
The players — and their new fans from Philadelphia — had a blast in their first two NCAA tournament games: the 78-68 victory over second-seeded Georgetown that brought the Eagles (26-10) to the nation's attention and the impressive win over the seventh-seeded Aztecs.
"Words can't describe this feeling as being a 15 seed, the first 15 seed to ever do this," FGCU point guard Brett Comer said. "I don't think it's really sunk in to any of us yet. I feel like maybe it will tomorrow, but right now we're on such an emotional high it's hard to come down from."
The Eagles continued their high-flying act that resulted in some highlight-reel dunks, many on assists from Coomer, who finished with 10 points and 14 assists.
"We got on a run, and when we push the ball we get the crowd behind us and we get a dunk, and then we go to the other end and get a stop and another dunk, it's hard to try to turn the momentum back like that," Comer said.
The Eagles broke the game open against Georgetown with a 21-2 run in the second half. Against San Diego State it was a 17-0 run and 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.
"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 Sherwood Brown, the A-Sun's player of the year, who had 17 points despite being saddled with foul trouble. "The whole crowd got behind us even if they are not from Fort Myers, or as I like to say, Dunk City."
Bernard Thompson had 23 points for the 16-year-old school from Fort Myers.
Jamal Franklin had 20 points and 11 rebounds for the 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.
The Eagles shot 55.9 percent (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 play with a swagger, and they have a right to do that," said San Diego State coach Steve Fisher, who knows about players with that 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."
Freshman Rasheed Sulaimon scored 21 points and Seth Curry added 17 as Duke advanced 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 in the regional semifinal for the 23rd time after holding Creighton to 30.2 percent shooting (16 of 53), including 2 of 19 from 3-point range.
Mason Plumlee, Josh Hairston and Ryan Kelly battled foul trouble all game long that could have doomed the Blue Devils but seventh-seeded Creighton (28-8) never made a serious run in the second half.
Doug McDermott scored 21 points on 4-for-16 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds for the Bluejays, who were knocked out in the third round by an Atlantic Coast Conference team for the second straight season. Creighton lost to North Carolina last year.