ARLINGTON, Texas — Early on, it looked like the guys from Dunk City could really do it.
Florida Gulf Coast, the first-ever No. 15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16, broke out to a 15-4 lead over Florida in Friday’s South Region semifinal.
Then Florida Gulf Coast hit a wall. Cinderella turned back into a pumpkin and Florida coasted to a 62-50 win at Cowboys Stadium.
Florida moves on to a Sunday meeting with Michigan to decide a Final Four berth. Florida Gulf Coast moves on to its place in NCAA Tournament history.
“We did something that nobody in the nation thought we could do,” FGCU guard Brett Comer said. “I’m proud of our team.”
Florida reeled off a 16-0 run to take a 27-24 lead and never looked back. FGCU found itself trailing 36-28 at halftime after committing 12 turnovers. The Eagles wound up with 20 turnovers in all.
“I was shocked at some of the bad turnovers we had in the first half,” FGCU coach Andy Enfield said. “It wasn’t what Florida was doing, we did it to ourselves.”
Florida was led by guard Mike Rosario and Scottie Wilbekin, who combined for 28 points. But it was the Gators’ overall quickness and defense that did the most damage to FGCU.
“When they started their run, we didn’t have the energy we had in the other two [NCAA tournament] games. It got us down,” forward Chase Fieler said.
“They are a great team and they did a great job of slowing us down, turning down our ball screens, making our plays run from five feet deeper than we wanted to and just really got us out of our game.”
FGCU showed it still had a spark near the end. A follow dunk by Fieler trimmed Florida’s lead to 50-43 with 3:15 to play.
But the threat soon fizzled, and so did Florida Gulf Coast’s memorable Cinderella run. The young school in Fort Myers will have a permanent spot in NCAA tournament lore.
“FGCU wasn’t a very well known school before we entered the tournament,” guard Sherwood Brown said. “And now the whole nation knows about it.”
The loss ends a whirlwind week of interviews and campus hysteria. The Dunk City nickname will likely live on, at least in the thousands of FGCU T-shirts sold since the tournament upsets of Georgetown and San Diego State.
“It’s a surreal feeling when you’re the underdog and you’re the talk of the nation,” Enfield said. “Our plan wasn’t to be some great national story. Our plan was to go in and compete and win games.”