- Jason King
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- At 11:46 p.m. CT on Friday at Cowboys Stadium, a group of Florida fans rose from their seats and began a rather sobering chant.
“Al-most mid-night!,” they yelled. “Al-most mid-night!”
Standing on the nearby court, Florida Gulf Coast’s players could only hang their heads. The clock was about to strike 12 on one of the better Cinderella stories in NCAA tournament history. The first No. 15 seed ever to advance to the Sweet 16 finally came off its cloud in a 62-50 loss to Florida.
“We made history,” guard Brett Comer said. “We did something that nobody in the nation thought we would do. I just hate that it has to end.”
The rest of America -- other than Florida fans, of course -- likely feels the same way.
The Eagles might have lost, but they hardly looked out of place or outclassed against third-seeded Florida, which advanced to the Elite Eight for the third consecutive season. The Gators (29-7) play Michigan at 2:20 p.m. ET Sunday for a chance to go to the Final Four.
FGCU came out on fire and led 15-4 at the 13:38 mark of the first half. And it was 24-14 after Christophe Varidel made three straight foul shots with 5:23 remaining. Florida, though, ended the first half on a 16-2 run and controlled the game after intermission.
“When they started their run, we didn’t have the energy we did in the other two games,” Eagles forward Chase Fieler said. “It got us down. We weren’t playing with the same energy, the same fire we showed before.
“They’re a great team and they did a great job of slowing us down and making us run our plays from five feet deeper than we wanted to. They got us out of our game.”
Indeed, Florida’s overall defense and physicality in the paint ended up being too much for the Eagles, who had 20 turnovers and were outrebounded on the offensive glass 13-5.
“I thought we did a great job of putting pressure on those guys and making them feel uncomfortable,” Florida guard Mike Rosario said.
Rosario scored 15 points while backcourt mate Scottie Wilbekin added 13. Three FGCU players (Sherwood Brown, Fieler and Varidel) all scored in double figures for a team that shot 45.5 percent from the field.
“I think that, for whatever reason, they felt like the two teams they played before us (No. 2 seed Georgetown and No. 7 San Diego State) disrespected them,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “I don’t know if that’s true or not. But we certainly went into the game with a lot of respect for them.”
Brown is the only senior in the Eagles’ starting lineup, so there’s a good chance we haven’t heard the last of Florida Gulf Coast (26-11), which might have been under-seeded at No. 15. Coach Andy Enfield’s squad beat eventual ACC champion Miami during nonconference play.
“We learned that we can play with anyone in the nation,” Comer said. “We learned that we can literally do anything that we put our minds to if we play with the right energy.
“We did some things here that will never be forgotten.”