They're back. The Eagles are headed to their third NCAA Tournament in five years as they defeated North Florida, 77-61, in the Atlantic Sun Championship.
FGCU trailed by six points at halftime, but came out of the locker-room swinging and never looked back. Brandon Goodwin scored 14 of his 19 points in the second half and sparked FGCU when nothing was falling.
While Goodwin got things going, it was a balanced effort that led the Eagles that led to a big victory. Zach Johnson and Christian Terrell both added 10 points, and the latter hit two massive threes to put the game out of reach.
Meanwhile, front-court mates Marc-Eddy Norelia and Demtris Morant each contributed 14 points as well. And as usual, Kevin Mickle was the unsung hero. The 6-foot-7 cleaned up on the offensive glass and did a phenomenal job double-teaming Dallas Moore and grabbing some steals.
In the end, FGCU showed why so many should be fearing a matchup with the Eagles: depth and resiliency. The Eagles went nine deep and wore down North Florida over time. They also never faltered early on when there was a great disparity in field goal percentage.
Oh and not to mention the whole "Dunk City" thing. While it's great for marketing and was an easy narrative for casual college basketball fans to leach on to from 2013, it rings true this year. While FGCU's front-court has back-to-the-basket ability and tenacious defense, they also have the athleticism to get up and throw down.
As Dana Caldwell of the NDN pointed out, Florida Gulf Coast was recently nearing its single season dunk record set in 2012-13 and assuredly passed that number (148) today.
Once the celebrating ends, the Eagles will turn their attention to next Sunday. The March Madness selection show will reveal the 68-team bracket at 5:30 pm on CBS.
At the moment, both ESPN and CBS have projected Florida Gulf Coast as a 14 seed while USA TODAY have the Eagles on the 15 seed line. Between now and Sunday, keep an eye on the performance of FGCU's big non-conference opponents (Michigan State, Baylor, Florida) as well as upsets in other mid-major conference tournaments. A combination of the two could perhaps result in the Eagles as a 13 seed.