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High-flying Florida Gulf Coast makes history, becoming first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

As Florida Gulf Coast celebrated the most improbable Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA tournament's upset-filled history on Sunday night, the obvious question wasn't how the Eagles toppled Georgetown and San Diego State this week.

It was how they lost twice to Lipscomb in the regular season.

Anyone who thought Florida Gulf Coast's upset of the second-seeded Hoyas was a fluke Friday night may have to reconsider after the beach-side school few had heard of a few days ago outclassed the seventh-seeded Aztecs two nights later. Bernard Thompson scored 23 points and Sherwood Robinson added 17, breaking open a close game midway through the second half and propelling the Eagles to an 81-71 win.

The next opponent for Florida Gulf Coast is the most fitting one possible for an underdog hoping to make the Final Four in its first-ever NCAA tournament. The Eagles will face in-state power Florida in the regional semifinals in Dallas with a spot in the Elite Eight on the line.

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Of the seven No. 15 seeds who have pulled first-round upsets since the NCAA tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, Florida Gulf Coast is the only one ever to win a second game.

The six previous No. 15 seeds lost in the Round of 32 by an average of 15 points per game. Only 1997 Coppin State even came within 10 of its second-round opponent, falling 82-81 to 10th-seeded Texas.

It's a safe bet none of the previous No. 15 seeds were as entertaining or as impressive as the run-and-gun Eagles. They torched a notoriously stingy San Diego State defense with the same panache as they did Georgetown, attacking in transition at every opportunity and delivering a flurry of clutch 3-pointers, acrobatic layups and YouTube-worthy slams.

The spurt that won the game for Florida Gulf Coast came five minutes into the second half when Brown re-entered the game with three fouls. Sparked by four straight steals that led to layups, the Eagles used a 26-6 run over the next 10 minutes to turn a two-point deficit into an insurmountable 70-52 lead.

Jamaal Franklin scored a team-high 20 points for San Diego State, but the Aztecs neither defended well enough nor provided him enough scoring help in the second half to make their second Sweet 16 appearance in three years. As a result, the strongest Mountain West in recent memory finished 2-5 in the NCAA tournament and failed to get a single team to the second week.

That was of little consequence to the victorious Florida Gulf players as they popped their jerseys, hugged and danced at mid-court following their second upset in the past three days.

This time last week, the few people who knew Florida Gulf Coast recognized it only as the school whose dorms overlooked the water and whose coach married a former bathing suit and lingerie model. Now Florida Gulf Coast is known for something else too: Its own slice of NCAA tournament history.

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