Less than 24 hours after learning its March Madness fate, Florida Gulf Coast rolled into its hotel in Dayton on Monday morning, receiving a warm welcome to the NCAA’s First Four.
“I honestly didn’t know what to expect. Just getting off the bus, it was great,” said senior guard Julian DeBose. “I did notice the FGCU fight song. Those cookies were pretty great. I’m just blown away by the welcome and glad to be experiencing it.”
This hospitality is just one of many reasons Dayton has made such a great host for these games that tip-off the entire tournament each year. The town in western Ohio, populated by about 140,000 people, boasts some of college basketball’s best fans. UD Arena, the home of the Dayton men’s basketball team, ranked 28th in the nation in attendance in 2014 (12,316 average) and brings in a raucous crowd each year for the First Four.
“Like I said the way we play, it’s fun to watch. I’m sure they’re going to enjoy the game,” said junior forward Marc-Eddy Norelia.
The Eagles won over the college basketball fans at the Wells Fargo Center in 2013, and have the potential to do it again this season, in front of what should be a packed house – including some FGCU faithful who made the trip. In preparation, the Eagles practiced at Wright State on Monday afternoon, prior to making their way to UD Arena for media availability and a run through open to the public.
“[Coach said] to make sure to enjoy everything we’re doing. Don’t take it for granted because there are a lot of guys who wish they could be here right now,” Norelia said. “So he said enjoy it but at the same time remember it’s a business trip. Go out there and compete it and give it your all.”
While the Eagles are soaking up and enjoying the experience of a lifetime, they’re still staying focused on the task at hand: Fairleigh Dickinson on Tuesday night.
“They’re definitely similar to some of the teams we’ve played in our conference. Like you said, like to get up and down, drive the ball, shoot a lot of threes,” DeBose said. “Credit to them, they had a great run at the end of the season just as we did. We’re just glad to be here and be able to compete.”
The Knights leading scorer, sophomore guard Darian Anderson, averaged 21 points per game during the NEC Tournament as FDU defeated No. 1 seeded Wagner, 87-79, to secure the conference's automatic bid.
The winner of Tuesday night’s matchup will then head to Raleigh to battle No. 1 North Carolina on Thursday. Although FGCU’s attention is on FDU, the Eagles don’t want to be flying back to Fort Myers anytime soon.
“We packed for the whole weekend,” Norelia said.