Hours after his team won the Atlantic Sun tournament to make the NCAA tournament in just its second year of eligibility, Florida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield weighed in on the seed he thought the Eagles deserved.
"I don't see how we're a 15 or 16 seed," he said. "I think we need to be higher than that based on the season we've had and the teams we've beaten."
Florida Gulf Coast received a No. 15 seed on Selection Sunday despite Enfield's protests, but the Eagles proved their coach's point five nights later. They became the seventh No. 15 seed ever to win an NCAA tournament game on Friday night, adding to Georgetown's recent history of March misery with a 78-68 opening-round upset.
Unlike last year's stunners by No. 15 seeds Lehigh and Norfolk State, this one didn't even really come down to the final possession. Behind 24 points from Atlantic Sun player of the year Sherwood Brown and 23 from fellow guard Bernard Thompson, Florida Gulf Coast extended a two-point halftime lead to as many as 19 points and never let the Hoyas any closer than four points down the stretch.
"I told our team before the game that Georgetown is ranked eighth in the country, but after you get out on the court for two or three minutes you're going to realize that you're just as good if not better than this team, and we did that," Enfield told reporters after the game. "We didn't play great in the first half, but I think we realized, hey, if we play, we can win this game."
The historic upset by Florida Gulf Coast is merely the latest remarkable chapter in Enfield's charmed life story. The former elite shooter at Division III Johns Hopkins has enjoyed success as an entrepreneur, married a lingerie and bathing suit model and risen in his current industry from skill instructor, to NBA assistant to college head coach.
Building Florida Gulf Coast into a winner only two years into his tenure and only six years after it began its transition to Division I may be Enfield's greatest achievement. The Eagles lost 20 0r more games under predecessor Dave Balza each of their first four seasons in Division I, but Enfield led them to a respectable 15-17 record last season and to 24 wins in the regular season this year.
The players who have thrived in Florida Gulf Coast's high-scoring, up-tempo system are a mix of holdovers from Balza's tenure and new recruits brought in by Enfield.
Brown and junior forward Chase Fieler both came to the school under Balza but have blossomed into stars the past two seasons. Thompson and Brett Comer were the first two recruits Enfield signed soon after taking the job in April 2011.
"My goal was to work every day with our coaching staff to make the program better," Enfield said earlier this month. "That was the only goal. Really what we focused on was making the individual players better, upgrade the talent level with recruiting, and develop a style of play that could be successful."
If a team takes on the personality of its coach, then it's easy to spot Enfield's trademark confidence in the Eagles.
They weren't intimidated facing a Georgetown team that won a share of the Big East title and features a future lottery pick in its frontcourt. They got chest-to-chest with the Hoyas when Georgetown committed a series of hard frustration fouls. Heck, Comer even had the guts to throw a transition lob pass to Fieler for a high-flying alley-oop jam with two minutes to go and Georgetown having clawed back within seven.
"You never want to waste time and then not get the points," Fieler told reporers after the game. "You always want to take the easy two points rather than run it out and then have a chance to miss free throws or even worse yet have a turnover."
Given Georgetown's recent NCAA tournament history, it's no surprise the Hoyas got tight as the Eagles built their second-half lead.
Georgetown has crashed out of the NCAA tournament in its first or second game all five times it has made the field since its 2007 Final Four appearance, four of those five as a No. 2 or 3 seed. This is probably the most disappointing of all, however, since the Hoyas were 25-6 entering the game and had won 13 of their last 15 games.
Markel Starks scored 23 points to keep the Hoyas competitive, but national player of the year candidate Otto Porter struggled through a 5 of 17 shooting night. The Hoyas also got little production from freshman guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera and they didn't defend well in the second half either.
"There are a lot of things that we have been very good at all year that we were not good at tonight," John Thompson III told reporters after the game. "I think they went on that stretch early in the second half where they made a bunch of shots, and then I think we got a little nervous and started spreading out too much, then opened up the lanes."
When TV cameras panned to the Florida Gulf Coast postgame locker room, players were smiling, laughing, dancing and even pouring bottles of water on Enfield's head as though it was champagne in a Major League clubhouse. They certainly earned that celebration, but the obvious question is whether they can refocus in time to challenge either San Diego State or Oklahoma in the round of 32.
None of the previous six No. 15 seeds who have won NCAA tournament games have gotten over that hangover quickly enough to win a second. The way Florida Gulf Coast performed Friday night though, don't count the Eagles out.
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