Men’s basketball makes it to first NCAA Tournament after winning A-Sun

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Florida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield holds up the net after his team defeated Mercer in an NCAA college basketball game for the Atlantic Sun men’s tournament championship, in Macon, Ga., Saturday, March 9, 2013. Florida Gulf Coast won 88-75. (AP Photo/Woody Marshall)

Time to break out your dancing shoes, Eagles. The Florida Gulf Coast University men’s basketball team not only won their first A-Sun tournament championship over the weekend, but they also automatically qualified for the NCAA tournament.

“It feels good when you set goals and actually have the chance to accomplish them,” said senior guard and A-Sun Player of the Year, Sherwood Brown. “What can I say? I’m ecstatic about us winning still.”

Last Saturday, FGCU flourished in the national spotlight because they were the first team in the country to punch their ticket to the big dance. FGCU was featured on national websites such as ESPN, CBS Sports and NBC Sports as well as ESPN’s SportsCenter. At one point the team trended nationally on Twitter.

“I think we’re definitely putting FGCU on the map,” said senior forward Eddie Murray. “When we used to walk through airports before, people would be like, ‘FGCU who?’  Now they’re like ‘oh you guys are FGCU!” he said, “More and more people are learning about it. Big things are coming for FGCU.”

This is not the only victory that has gained the Eagles national recognition this season. FGCU defeated the University of Miami in November by a score of 63-51. Miami is currently ranked number nine and has only lost six games this season.

University of North Carolina head coach Roy Williams commented on Miami’s loss to FGCU after UNC lost big to Miami.

“Miami lost to Florida Gulf Coast? I’d hate like hell to play Florida Gulf Coast,” Williams said.

Florida Gulf Coast's Brett Comer (0) works against Mercer's Langston Hall (21) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball team in the Atlantic Sun championship game in Macon, Ga., Saturday, March 9, 2013. Florida Gulf Coast won 88-75. (AP Photo/Woody Marshall)
Florida Gulf Coast’s Brett Comer (0) works against Mercer’s Langston Hall (21) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball team in the Atlantic Sun championship game in Macon, Ga., Saturday, March 9, 2013. Florida Gulf Coast won 88-75. (AP Photo/Woody Marshall)

In just his second year at FGCU, head coach Andy Enfield has taken a team that won 10 games two years ago to the NCAA tournament.

“I thought going in that our players would be confident. I never would have imagined that we would have scored 88 points against the best defensive team in our league,” Enfield said. “Mercer is in the top 20 in the nation in defense for points per game allowed, and we scored 88. They usually only give up 57.” He added, “that type of effort was really great to see.”

This effort led the Eagles to an A-Sun tournament championship win by a score of 88-75.

“Our players were very focused, and it says a lot about their desire to succeed. I was very proud of how they developed internal chemistry among themselves and were able to develop a winning mentality,” coach Enfield said. “I think that winning mentality and attitude within the team carried us through three tough games this week.”

This A-Sun championship win led the Eagles to their first-ever bid to the NCAA tournament. Six years of Division 1 play and two seasons of postseason eligibility is all it took for the Eagles to achieve this great accomplishment.

“Going into the tournament right away is a big deal, and we’re excited for it,” sophomore guard Brett Comer said, who scored 21 points in the championship game.

Comer has had the chance to play in an A-Sun tournament championship in both of his years at FGCU.

He took this opportunity and ran with it, as he was named the 2013 A-Sun tournament MVP.

“It means a lot to be recognized like that with a group of guys that are so good, including all the teams. It meant a lot to be a part of that, and it was a good feeling,” Comer said.

Going into the A-Sun tournament, the Eagles were the number two seed with a conference record of 13-5 and 24-10 overall.

“Their goal was to win 20 games and compete for a league championship. We competed for a regular season championship, and it came down to the last day of the season,” Enfield said. “We came in second. We also wanted to compete for the tournament championship, which is more important because you go to the NCAA tournament.”

After beating UNF on Wednesday by a score of 73-63, the Eagles moved on to the semifinals against Stetson on Friday. During this game, A-Sun Defensive Player of the Year, sophomore guard Bernard Thompson, set a new career best with 13 rebounds. Thompson also reached 95 steals on the season. This gave him a program record and tied him for the third-most steals in A-Sun single-season history.

“Getting steals leads us into transition. We get transition buckets. Easy points right there,” Thompson said. “It fires up my team if I get a steal and probably go down and get a dunk or give somebody else a dunk. It gives us intensity, our momentum picks up, energy gets real good, and we just feed off of it.”

After a tough start against Stetson, that’s just what happened. The intensity, momentum and energy did pick up at the start of the second half.

“I think at the beginning a lot of our guys were still getting a feel for the game, so I tried to keep us in it because I knew they would be getting out those pregame jitters and that in the second half we’d just come out and play really hard,” Brown said.

With a win over Stetson by a score of 72-58, the Eagles moved on to their second straight A-Sun tournament championship game.

“Last year we were in the championship game, and I had a little bitter taste in my mouth after losing,” Murray said. “This year, getting there we had a lot more experience. People had been there before and we played well.”

The Eagles had just beaten the Bears at Alico Arena on February 28, 60-57. They also had defeated the Bears in last year’s A-Sun championship semifinals at Mercer. FGCU snapped Mercer’s 15-game home winning streak that started after FGCU’s win in last year’s semifinals.

“This year is going to be a big year to top,” Thompson said. “They projected us not to win the championship. We’re going to the NCAA tournament for the first time since being eligible. It gives us some national credibility. Everybody’s watching out for FGCU to see how we’re going to do in the tournament.”

This season is the start to a growing, successful and recognized program.

“I didn’t imagine this two years ago,” FGCU President Wilson Bradshaw said, according to Naples Daily News. “All the information we got when we recruited Andy was just super. We knew he was going to do great things, but we didn’t know it was going to happen this quickly.”