FGCU's Brett Comer, left, reacts to losing to Florida during second period play as head coach Andy Enfield looks on Friday (3/29/13) at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. / KINFAY MOROTI/news-press.com
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ARLINGTON, Texas – The FGCU men’s basketball team used huge second-half scoring runs to catapult past Georgetown and San Diego State last week and squarely into the national spotlight, becoming the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16.
In Friday’s NCAA regional nightcap at Cowboys Stadium, No. 3 seed Florida ended the Eagles’ magical turn as one of the tournament’s all-time best Cinderella stories by hitting FGCU with a knockout surge of its own on its way to a 62-50 victory.
Trailing 24-14 with 5:23 remaining the first half, the Gators (29-7) outscored the Eagles 23-2 over the next 8:15 to take firm control of the game. FGCU (26-11) never pulled within seven points the rest of the way.
“They were playing hard on defense. They just outworked us,” said Eagles sophomore guard Bernard Thompson, who scored just six points in 28 minutes before fouling out. “Florida is a great team, top five in defense. They just put the pressure on us.”
During its dry spell, FGCU missed five field goals, two free throws and committed six turnovers. That stretch of poor play squandered a fast start that saw the Eagles build their largest lead, 15-4, just six minutes into the game.
“We were moving the ball well when we got our run,” Thompson said. “Everybody was getting touches, we were getting easy baskets. We were just playing with the energy we usually play with.”
But when the Gators began cutting off FGCU’s penetration and fighting through ball screens, Florida wrested the momentum away and sapped the Eagles’ energy.
“When they started their run, we couldn’t, we didn’t have the same energy we did in the other two games,” junior forward Chase Fieler said. “It got us down. We weren’t playing with the same energy, the same fire we were before.”
Junior forward Eric McKnight and junior guard Christophe Varidel also pinpointed FGCU’s lack of energy as the biggest reason for the loss.
“They kept on executing on our turnovers and we weren’t sprinting back on defense in the second half,” McKnight said. “It was kind of like we gave up a little bit.
“I know, me personally, I didn’t have that much intensity.”
When asked, neither Thompson nor McKnight attributed the media scrutiny and national attention the Eagles received since their two upset wins last weekend to its play Friday.
They just ran into a better team, at least on Friday night.
“They’re a great defensive team, probably the best we played all year,” Varidel said. “They played great and obviously we didn’t play our best game.”