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Florida Gulf Coast thrives without history

NCAA tournament upset of Georgetown brings exposure to tiny FGCU

- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 23, 2013

PHILADELPHIA -- As Florida Gulf Coast University fans roared and the Eagles were seconds away from completing the upset of Georgetown, guard Sherwood Brown strolled over to broadcasters Len Elmore and Reggie Miller and shook their hands.

"At that moment it was like 20 seconds left in the game, and we were just having a little bit of fun," Brown said. "This is our first time being to the NCAA tournament. To actually go out there and win that first game, it means something really special to us."

This was just FGCU's sixth Division I season and second in which it was eligible to play in the postseason. What made Friday night's victory over second-seeded Georgetown even more special for the 15th-seeded Eagles was history, or the absence of it.

The school was founded in 1991 and didn't begin classes until 1997. That's 13 years after Georgetown won the 1984 national championship.

"They had different players before we were even around. We didn't have a basketball team," coach Andy Enfield said. "So this was all about our team right now, and their team right now."

For one night, the Hoyas had to conceded that FGCU was a better team.

"They outplayed us," coach John Thompson III said. "Have to give them all the credit for the outcome."

Enfield deserves a lot of credit for quickly turning FGCU into a winner. The Eagles won the Atlantic Sun tournament final on the road at No. 1 seed Mercer to get in, but their signature victory before Friday came when they beat Miami in November.

A 78-68 win over Georgetown made the country aware of FGCU, but even locally it has been a challenge to draw attention to the tiny school of 13,468 on the border of Fort Myers, Estero and Naples. Enfield said last season it was common to have 75 students at a game; now there are 800 to 1,000 and more are noticing.

"Now we have families coming to games, we have retirees coming to games, we have people that have never been to campus before showing up and supporting us, and then the students have been unbelievable," Enfield said. "They have the chants now. They're not like [Duke's Cameron] Crazies yet. They don't have all the chants down, but they have just supported us, and we expect as we grow this program for that to continue in a bigger way."

Becoming just the seventh No. 15 seed to pull off an upset of a No. 2 is a good way to start. And the Eagles didn't just beat Georgetown, they did so in cocky fashion.

The best example of that came when point guard Brett Comer threw up a lob not all that close to the rim for forward Chase Fieler to throw down for a dunk. That led FGCU to post on its Twitter feed: "When people ask you where FGCU is, just tell them Dunk City, Florida!"

"I've got some crazy dudes on my team, so when he threw that, I thought the ball was coming to me," Enfield said. "Would I recommend that pass? No, not in that situation. It was a little risky. But that's our style."

FGCU had little choice but to play a little risky to overcome a talent disadvantage against an opponent that captured a share of the Big East regular-season title. But players had the right mindset to pull off an upset, knowing full well that the Hoyas lost to double-digit seeds in their past four NCAA tournament appearances.

"Coming into this game we really knew we had nothing to lose," Brown said. "Georgetown had all the pressure on them."

There's not a whole lot of pressure on a team that most fans watching, either at home or at Wells Fargo Center, didn't know much about before this week. Fieler, a West Virginia native, said a lot of people in his life didn't know where he was going when he signed on to play for FGCU.

"I'm from Orlando, so even being from Florida, a lot of the people that I'm close to, they didn't even know where Florida Gulf Coast was or they never heard of it," Brown said.

Redshirt senior forward Eddie Murray is from North Fort Myers, so he knew a little bit more.

"I kind of got to see the school come from. ... I got to see it grow as I was going through high school and then I was recruited there," said Murray, who saw quite the scenery there. "Personally I've seen everything from wild boar, bobcats [to] alligators."

Wild boar, bobcats and alligators aren't synonymous with basketball success, but neither is the Atlantic Sun Conference. FGCU became just the fifth A-Sun team to win an NCAA tournament game.

Playing without expectations, the Eagles were loose Friday night against Georgetown. Brown wasn't afraid to interact with the crowd, staring down the Hoyas fan section after hitting a 3-pointer to extend the lead to 13.

"I just tried to get my team really going whenever I play because I feel like you can get one player to just get everyone involved and to get everyone's momentum going, then I feel like you can do anything," Brown said. "That's what I was really trying to do, I was just trying to get my team going."

That wasn't an issue, even when FGCU's lead slipped to four points. The intensity never dropped, and the Eagles moved on to face San Diego State on Sunday with a chance to advance to the Sweet 16.

"It's very exciting to be in the position that we're in right now," guard Bernard Thompson said. "We worked really, really hard to be where we're at. No one has given us anything. It just means that much more that we actually had to go out there and earn it and take what we felt was ours."

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