Florida Gulf Coast continues historic NCAA run

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PHILADELPHIA — Naturally, college basketball's most outrageous air show since Phi Slama Jama punctuated its latest conquest with two highlight-reel lob dunks.

The Brett Comer-to-Eric McKnight connections were merely part of the historic show as Florida Gulf Coast dusted San Diego State 81-71 Sunday night to become the first No. 15 seed to reach the NCAA tournament's Sweet 16.

The Eagles captured the sport's imagination with a fearless upset of second-seeded Georgetown on Friday. Sunday they affirmed their talent and coach Andy Enfield's creative approach.

Lobs, dunks, drop passes: Anything goes with these dudes, and anyone who considers them flukes wasn't watching closely.

Ask Georgetown. Florida Gulf Coast hit the Hoyas with a 22-2 run.

Ask San Diego State. The Eagles finished the Aztecs with a 16-0 binge.

Those are two of college basketball's best defenses, per Ken Pomeroy's efficiency statistics, and Florida Gulf Coast dismantled both.

Sunday the Eagles shot a sterling 55.9 percent from the field and had assists on 21-of-33 field goals. Six players contributing from nine to 23 points accounted for all their scoring, evidence of a selflessness all too rare these days.

By game's end, Florida Gulf Coast's reserves were doing the Dirty Bird on the bench, and fans not only in the Wells Fargo Center but also in living rooms everywhere were high-fiving and applauding in wonder and appreciation.

"We're all about having fun," Eagles guard Sherwood Brown said. "We like to get the crowd involved, as you guys who watched the game, you seen that over the course of the game the whole crowd started to get behind us even if they are not from Fort Myers, or as I like to say, 'Dunk city.'"

Even San Diego State (23-11) couldn't help but admire. Jamaal Franklin, the Aztecs' best player, had an animated postgame conversation with Brown, offering congratulations and encouragement.

"They play with a swagger, and they have a right to do that," San Diego State coach Steve Fisher said.  "You can have that look and feel, but you have to compete and play to earn your spurs, and they've done that."

The coach of Michigan's Fab Five in 1992 and '93, Fisher is as credible a source on swagger as you'll find.

San Diego State scored 10 points on four possessions late in the first half to seize a 35-29 lead, and for the first time this weekend, Florida Gulf Coast faced a crisis. How would the neophyte Eagles respond?

By staying true to their Dunk City moniker, that's how.

Chase Fieler drove the left baseline, elevated, absorbed contact from DeShawn Stephens and threw it down. He converted the ensuing free throw and then scored in the paint to draw Florida Gulf Coast within 35-34 at intermission.

The Eagles faced another crossroads early in the second half when Brown, their best player, went to the bench with his third foul. All they did was surge to a 52-46 lead when Comer threw a Showtime, between-his-legs drop pass to a trailing Fieler, who finished the break with a layup.

Upon his return, Brown swished a right-wing 3-pointer off a Comer kickout, and the rout was on.

"Words can't describe this feeling as being a 15 seed, the first 15 seed to ever do this," 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."

Five of the six previous No. 15 seeds to win their opening game — Richmond 1991, Santa Clara '93, Hampton 2001, Norfolk State '12 and Lehigh '12 — lost their subsequent outing by a double-figure margin. The exception was the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference's Coppin State in 1997.

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