Big lead and dreams fade for Eagles

The Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) Eagle basketball team came in to the NCAA Tournament with lofty expectations and left with a half empty feeling. Their improbable run through the field of 68 was longer than anyone outside of Ft. Myers Florida would have imagined, but a few games short of what they thought they could accomplish. The Florida Gators got in the way of that run.

With 7:05 left on the clock in the first half of Friday's game between Florida and FGCU the Eagles led 21-11 and had everything going their way. Cinderella had boxing gloves on and was taking it to her step sisters.

Then the proverbial clock seemed to hit midnight. It was a little before midnight on the east coast to be exact, but we started to see the Eagles being a little undressed by the Gators. They got sloppy and couldn't handle the Gators constant pressure on the ball. The Eagles would add a score and subsequent free throw after the foul on the shot to get to 24 points, but then the Gators went on a 16-0 run thanks to dictating tempo on both sides of the ball.

In the span of four minutes and 27 seconds, the Eagles saw a 24-14 lead slip to a 30-26 deficit. Just like that, the Gators were in control. The range of emotions was great for the fledgling program that had the country excited for them this entire week.

"It was very exciting to get out to that big run early, playing in the Sweet 16, playing the way we were playing early in the tournament against a great team in Florida," Eagle forward Chase Fieler said. "When they started their run we couldn't we didn't have the energy we did in the other two games. It got us down. We weren't playing with the same energy, the same fire we were before. At halftime we tried to discuss it and get each other going.

"They are a great team and did a great job of slowing us down, turning down our ball screens, making our plays ran from five feet deeper than we wanted to and just really got us out of our game."

The Gators made it a point to cut off the head of the snake so to speak. Point guard Brett Comer was a star in the NCAA tournament in the first two games and throughout the season. He was averaging almost seven assists per game this season. He was able to reach that number with seven, but what the Gators did was harass him enough to triple his turnover production. Comer usually has about three turnovers per game and ended up with nine in the Florida game.

The Eagles aren't ready to blame it all on the point guard.

"No, it's not all on his shoulders," Fieler said. "I didn't have a great game controlling the ball either. I made some mistakes, our whole team did.

"Even when he was driving, we weren't moving, we were staying in the same spot. Florida was very active in their defense, rotating and getting to where we were. We made it difficult for him to even find us. We weren't uncovering ourselves, we weren't getting to the open areas, so that was very difficult. Then if he did make it past, we weren't always catching it like we should. We weren't catching it in rhythm to get the easy shot off. It's definitely not all on his shoulders.

"He played a great game, and still had 7 assists in the game. We've got to do a better job of moving without the ball and moving when he gets into the lane, get to the open area."

Eagles' coach Andy Enfield felt like they were shooting themselves in the foot passing the ball around. He thought his team matched up well, but just made too many mistakes.

"I didn't feel it was a weakness or it was coming," Enfield said of all the turnovers and sloppy play. "We've been playing great basketball the last three or four weeks. We won 14 out of 16 games.

I was shocked at some of the bad turnovers we had in the first half. When you go into 12 turnovers at halftime and 8 of them are because you're throwing the ball into their hands and just it was just like it wasn't what Florida was doing, we did it to ourselves.

Florida is a great defensive team, but some of the turnovers you can't even make that up. It's hard to imagine our lack of ball skills, but you just can't beat a team with 20 turnovers as good as Florida.

Florida also pounded the boards. The overall heights of the starting five for both teams are about the same, but the Gators muscled their way to more rebounds, especially on the offensive side where Florida would get second chance shots. "We've got to play smart," Fieler said. "We had 20 turnovers, they only had ten. That's ten more possessions right there. They had 15 offensive rebounds, we had six… nine more right there." It was a great run for a squad in only their second year of eligibility for the tournament. Enfield and company had a good time, even if their hopes were dashed Friday night. He ended his night on the podium with a laugh about the rebounding, "I tried to recruit Shaq and Bill Russell at halftime, but they were busy."

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