No. 15 Gulf Coast to the Sweet 16

PHILADELPHIA — Florida Gulf Coast went from shocking the college basketball world to downright impressing it. And the Eagles were smiling the whole time.

Playing loose and easy, little-known FGCU beat San Diego State 81-71 on Sunday to become the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

“We don’t take ourselves too seriously,” said Florida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield, whose players tossed him in the air and poured water on him in a raucous celebration before his postgame interviews. “We try to have fun, get serious when we have to.

“Our goal was to make history and we did it.”

The next opponent for the upstart state school will be the main campus, third-seeded Florida, on Friday night in a South Region semifinal in Dallas.

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

Bernard Thompson had 23 points and Sherwood Brown added 17 for FGCU, the 16-year-old school in just its second season being eligible for postseason play.

In its first-ever NCAA Tournament game Friday, the Atlantic Sun champion busted brackets everywhere with an upset win over No. 2 Georgetown, a game the Eagles took control of with a 21-2 run in the second half.

It went much the same way against San Diego State.

This time the run was 17-0 and Brown, who was saddled early in the second half with foul trouble, had eight of the first 10 points of it. 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.

Brown stuck out his tongue after every big basket, often in the direction of the hundreds of Eagles fans jammed into one section.

Even when the game was tight, he and his teammates looked they were glad to be on the court. The Eagles waved their arms and played along with a lively crowd that came to see an upset. There were big smiles and high-fives.

In short, they showed a kind of joy that’s often missing from high stakes, high drama games in March.

The notoriously tough Philly fans loved them back. One seated behind the FGCU bench held a sign — “Fly, Eagles, Fly!” — the motto of the NFL team that plays across the street.

And after it was all over, the whole team joined in a bird dance the players on the bench had been doing during the game.

“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.”

FGCU played like it had nothing to lose. And really, the Eagles didn’t. Given their school’s short history, nobody expected them to win a game at the NCAA Tournament, let alone two.

Comer, who didn’t have as many lob passes for dunks as he did against the Hoyas, finished with 10 points and 14 assists, some of which resulted in dunks that had the crowd cheering and wanting more.

“We want to get out and run,” Comer said. “We’re just having so much fun.”

FGCU even unleashed another offensive weapon. Christophe Varidel, a native of Switzerland, hit two big 3s early for the Eagles and finished with 11 points after going scoreless against Georgetown.

Jamal Franklin had 20 points and 11 rebounds for the seventh-seeded 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.

Xavier Thames’ layup brought the Aztecs within 54-52 with 11:33 to play but the Eagles were off on their spurt about 90 seconds later. FGCU held San Diego State without a field goal for 71⁄2 minutes as it again pulled away again from a team with much bigger national profile.

“We just tried to keep a steady pace and tried to wear them down. We think we can play with anybody in the country,” center Chase Fieler said. “When we got the running game going it felt like a home game.”

The Eagles shot 55.9 percent for the game (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.

South Region

Kansas 70,

North Carolina 58

KANSAS CITY — Kansas got the best of ‘ol Roy and his Tar Heels once again.

Behind the impassioned play of Travis Releford and Jeff Withey, the top-seeded Jayhawks shook themselves out of a first-half slumber and blitzed No. 8 seed North Carolina down the stretch.

Withey had 16 points and 16 rebounds, and Releford finished with 22 points for the Jayhawks (31-5), who also knocked former coach Roy Williams’ team out of the NCAA Tournament during their 2008 title run and again last season, when Kansas marched all the way to the Final Four.

It’ll keep marching this year — at least to the Sweet 16 — thanks to a superb second half.

P.J. Hairston scored 15 points and James Michael McAdoo finished with 11 for the Tar Heels (25-11).

Florida 78, Minnesota 64

AUSTIN, Texas — Mike Rosario scored 25 points and Florida used an overpowering first half to roll past Minnesota and into the round of 16 for third consecutive year with a 78-64 win.

The No. 3 seed Gators (28-7) shot a blistering 65 percent in the first half and led by 21 by halftime. The win earns Florida a return trip to the Lone Star State to play their next game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.

Andre Hollins scored 25 points to lead the No. 11-seed Gophers (21-13). Hollins’ 3-point shooting sparked a second-half rally that pulled Minnesota within seven points, but Rosario’s sixth 3-pointer with 3 minutes left pushed the Gators’ lead back to 16 and effectively locked up the win.

West Region

Ohio St. 78, Iowa St. 75

DAYTON, Ohio — Aaron Craft dribbled in place at the top of the arc, watching to see if any of his Ohio State teammates were getting open near the basket for a game-winning shot.

Nothing there.

The point guard had a clear look at the clock as it raced toward zero atop the backboard. He realized what he had to do — take a little Ohio State tournament history into his hands.

Craft held the ball until he had no other choice, then swished a 3-pointer with a half-second left Sunday for a 78-75 victory over Iowa State, sending the Buckeyes to a school-record fourth straight trip to the round of 16.

No. 2 Ohio State had managed to escape as the lone high seed left in the NCAA Tournament’s most-busted bracket.

“The moment’s a lot bigger than me,” said Craft, who had allowed Iowa State to catch up with missed free throws and an errant jumper. “It just happened to be in my hands at the end.”

Ohio State (28-7) needed Craft’s fearless shot — over 6-foot-7 defender Georges Niang — to avoid yet another upset in the oh-so-wild West Region. Four of the top five seeds fell fast and hard in the first weekend.

The Buckeyes’ 10th straight win sent them to Los Angeles for a game Thursday against sixth-seeded Arizona.

“With all that’s gone on in college basketball, anything’s possible,” Craft said. “You can see it with what’s gone on in our bracket right now.”

Tenth-seeded Iowa State (23-12) overcame a late 13-point deficit by hitting 3s — the Cyclones’ specialty — but wound up beaten by one, a tough way to have their upset bid end.

“We played our hearts out,” said Will Clyburn, who scored 17 points. “It was a tough game and he made a tough shot. He made a great play.”

Craft’s missed free throws helped Iowa State catch up. He missed the front end of a pair of one-and-one chances and was off on a jumper from just inside the arc with 29.2 seconds left and the score tied.

The Cyclones knocked the ball out of bounds while trying for the rebound, setting up the final chance. Coach Thad Matta called a timeout and went over the options.

“I told ’em, ‘Hey, let’s get the last shot; let’s play for the win here,’” Matta said.

When the Cyclones switched coverages to take away leading scorer Deshaun Thomas and put their tall freshman on Craft, the point guard decided to take it himself.

Not a bad outcome, Iowa State thought.

“He had a tough shot,” said Korie Lucious, who led Iowa State with 19 points. “He hadn’t hit a 3 all game.”

The officials reviewed the play to confirm Craft’s foot was behind the arc when he shot. Lucious didn’t come close on a long heave as the final half-second ran off.

Thomas led Ohio State with 22 points, and Craft had 18. LaQuinton Ross scored 10 straight for the Buckeyes as they built that second-half lead.

La Salle 76, Mississippi 74

KANSAS CITY — Tyrone Garland banked home a scooping layup with 2 seconds left and 13th-seeded La Salle beat Mississippi 76-74, vaulting the Explorers to their deepest run in the NCAA Tournament since they played for the championship in 1955.

Ramon Galloway had 24 points for La Salle (24-9), which was playing its third game in five days. No. 12 Ole Miss (27-9) led 74-72 with 1:58 left but failed to reach the regional semifinals for the first time since 2001.

After Tyreek Duren’s two foul shots tied it 74-all at the 1:07 mark, Marshall Henderson failed to hit an off-balance bank shot that would have given Mississippi the lead.

Henderson had 21 points in game with 11 lead changes.

Duren had 19 points for La Salle and Garland had 17.

Murphy Holloway had 14 points for Mississippi, which fell one win shy of breaking the school record. Jarvis Summers had 12 and Nick Williams had 10 for the Rebels, who were a miserable 10-for-21 from the foul line.

East Region

Indiana 58, Temple 52

DAYTON, Ohio — On the verge of being the second No. 1 knocked from the NCAA Tournament, Indiana finally stopped Temple’s No. 1.

Victor Oladipo hit a key 3-pointer with 13 seconds remaining and the top-seeded Hoosiers, their season moments from ending in disappointment, shut down Owls star Khalif Wyatt in the final three minutes to hold off Temple 58-52.

The Hoosiers (29-6) trailed by four with 2:56 left, but closed with a 10-0 run and advanced to the round of 16 for the second straight year.

Indiana will play No. 4 seed Syracuse in the regional semifinals Thursday in Washington, a rematch of the classic 1987 title game won by the Hoosiers.

Wyatt scored 31 points to lead the Owls (24-10), who gave one of the Big Ten’s big boys all they could handle before collapsing when it mattered most.

“Temple, like I said to our players in the huddle, they’re as tough a team physically and mentally as we faced all year, and we faced the best all year in the Big Ten,” Indiana coach Tom Crean said. “They take a backseat to nobody. This was a hard-earned victory that can only make us better.”

Oladipo, who spent the afternoon doing all he could to slow down Wyatt, scored 16 and Cody Zeller added 15 for the Hoosiers, lucky to leave Dayton with their national title hopes intact.

Miami 63, Illinois 59

AUSTIN, Texas — Shane Larkin hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with a minute left and Miami kept possession on a ball knocked out of bounds that probably should have gone to Illinois, helping the Hurricanes hold on for a 63-59 victory to advance to the round of 16.

After Larkin’s first field goal in about 91⁄2 minutes, D.J. Richardson missed a 3-pointer. In the fight for the rebound, the ball appeared to ricochet off the hands of Miami’s Kenny Kadji out of bounds. But the Hurricanes kept the ball, and Durand Scott made two free throws after that.

Miami (29-6) is in the round of 16 for only the second time in school history. The Hurricanes play Marquette (25-8) in Washington D.C. on Thursday night.

Larkin, the only non-senior starter for Miami and the ACC player of the year, finished with 17 points. Rion Brown had 21 with five 3s.

Brandon Paul had 18 points for Illionis (23-13).

Midwest Region

Duke 66, Creighton 50

PHILADELPHIA — Rasheed Sulaimon scored 21 points, Seth Curry scored had 17 and No. 2 seed Duke held off seventh-seeded Creighton 66-50 on Sunday to advance 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 back in the regional semifinal for the 23rd time. They’ll play No. 3 seed Michigan State (27-8) in the regional semifinal Friday in Indianapolis.

Mason Plumlee, Josh Hariston and Ryan Kelly battled foul trouble all game long that could have doomeed the Blue Devils. Creighton (28-8) went cold and never made a serious run in the second half. Doug McDermott scored 21 points but made only four baskets.

With McDermott slumping, the Bluejays were knocked out in the third round by an ACC team for the second straight season.

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