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Friday, March 22, 2013
Updated: March 23, 3:14 PM ET
An alley-oop heard 'round the world

By Dana O'Neil
ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- The program that had accumulated 20 NCAA tournament berths before its opponent had even come into existence, the one that had one national championship and five Final Fours to the grand total of 38 minutes of NCAA tournament play amassed by the opposing bench, had managed to slice a 19-point hole to seven points and was threatening to put reality back on its proper axis.

Which, of course, to Brett Comer was the perfect time to flip an underhanded alley-oop pass to teammate Chase Fieler.

"It's just my instincts,'' he said. "I didn't even think time and place.''

He may have been the only person in the entire arena, maybe in the entire basketball-watching public, who did not.

Because in the unwritten rules of basketball, there is at least a commandment, if not a golden rule that reads:

A program in just in its second season as a full member of Division I, making its first NCAA tournament appearance, babysitting an ever-diminishing lead with two minutes left, shall not toss a risky alley-oop pass against one of the stalwarts of the sport.

Not since Ali Farokhmanesh beat Kansas on a no-no-yes 3-pointer has there been a more, um, nervy play in the NCAA tournament.

Short is the list of better dunks -- with Fieler skying above the rim to grab the dish with one hand and throwing it down to the stunned delight of the crowd.

And never has there been a more improbable win.

Sherwood Brown
Sherwood Brown celebrates Florida Gulf Coast's upset over No. 2 Georgetown.

Florida Gulf Coast's 78-68 victory over Georgetown is not big because it was a 15-seed over a 2-seed. That's not only happened before, in the last two seasons it's become almost commonplace -- three times in the last five games.

No, this was not an upset of teams so much as it was an upset of eras, the old money of Georgetown turned out by the nouveau riche of Southwest Florida, the staid suits from the Capitol shown up by the bedazzled retirees and beachbums of the Gulf of Mexico.

Georgetown was founded in 1789 when John Carroll secured a deed for a tract of land. The school celebrated its first class on 1792 and chose its blue colors after the Civil War, figuring the blue and gray would help repair the wounds that helped divide the city.

The Hoyas count some of the game's greatest among its alums -- Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Allen Iverson come to mind.

Florida Gulf Coast came into fruition in 1991, when private landowners gifted 20 acres east of Interstate 75 between Alico, Inc., an agribusiness in the state, and Corkscrew Roads.

The first class graduated in 1997. Its colors are cobalt blue and green, because the gulf is right down the road. Among FGCU's celebrated athletes -- Brooke Sweat, a pro beach volleyball player.

On Thursday, 377 years after Harvard opened its ivied doors, the Crimson finally won a tourney game. On Friday, 16 years after Florida Gulf Coast parted the palm trees, the Eagles won an NCAA game.

"Well, I was actually at Yale at the beginning of my career so I know some of that history,'' athletic director Ken Kavanaugh said. "I went to Boston College when the Big East started and watched Coach Thompson, so I know what Georgetown is all about, too. But I watched our team the last two years, and I saw them develop a confidence, so no I'm not surprised at all.''

The Eagles weren't, either.

Comer said, without any sense of bravado, that his team believed it could win a game as soon as it won the Atlantic Sun tournament. They believed it even more on Selection Sunday when they saw Georgetown on the opposite line, figuring their athleticism and transition game would give the Hoyas fits.

He was right. Georgetown gave up 25 points in transition, the most it has allowed all year. And remember, the Hoyas play in the Big East. Not that Georgetown should be embarrassed, because frankly FGCU could give plenty of teams fits. Do not be surprised to see them as the first 15-seed ever in the Sweet 16. Do not be surprised if they're in every game from here on out.

Especially this year.

The Eagles are everything that college basketball has not been for this 2012-13 season. They are freewheeling, unapologetically risky, even borderline dangerous and dare we say it, fun.

Coaches' personalities these days tend to run the spectrum between ferociously Type A and obsessive compulsive. If they could orchestrate their players' bathroom visits and sock rotation, they would.

D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera
For the Hoyas, the 2012-13 season ends well short of expectations.

Nothing is left to chance. This game of basketball is not a game. It is a forced march of misery, they will have you believe, where every tiny mistake has horrific consequences, with careers dying and salaries evaporating on one 19-year-old's spontaneous foolish alley-oop.

And then there is Andy Enfield. He is the NCAA record holder for free throw percentage, which would typically imply disciplined order; he's also a former Wall Street success story and still dresses the part. His tie remained knotted crisply and his suit jacket neatly folded over his arm after the news conference. Yet he coaches with freedom and ease.

He doesn't yell unless he absolutely has to and lovingly refers to his players as "crazy dudes." At a recent tournament game before they could actually start shooting for warmups, the players chased Enfield's toddlers around the court, playing freeze tag.

Up 24-22 at the half against Georgetown, his message wasn't don't screw this up; it was lighten up. He told his team to stop playing the Hoyas' style and play his own, which he described thusly:

"We're going to push the ball, made shots and missed shots, get the ball in transition, run the floor, big guys spring in the middle of the lane, if you have something quick, take it; if not, bring the ball out and execute it," he said.

A lot of people think the Eagles feed off Enfield's confidence -- he did win the heart of a model, which takes only slightly less gumption than Comer's pass, after all.

It's actually his relaxed style and his confidence in them -- not in himself -- that they react to. Comer admitted after the fact that maybe the alley-oop might have earned him a sideways glance from his coach.

"We made it, so obviously it wasn't a problem,'' Comer said. "If we had missed it, uh, I don't know what he would have said to that."

His coach, though, was fine. A year ago Comer was more on the risk side of Enfield's risk-reward approach. He averaged 6.3 assists -- but also committed 3.6 turnovers -- but the coach saw something even then in the player that said trust him.

Before his coaching career, before even his Wall Street run, Enfield worked in player development with NBA players, privately tutoring plenty of them on their shot. He said Comer's court vision "is the best I've ever seen, better even than NBA players." Comer, Enfield pointed out, doesn't have the obvious athleticism of a Chris Paul, but he can see a play unlike anyone else.

"Honestly,'' said Fieler, the oop end of the alley-oop, "sometimes I'm not sure what he's doing or if it's even for me. I just jump and then it seems to land in my hand.''

So this season when the assists continued to rise -- Comer set the Atlantic Sun record for assists in a season and dished out 10 against Georgetown -- and the turnovers dropped, Enfield learned that what looks like crazy to others made perfect sense to Comer.

"We talk about risk-reward all the time,'' Enfield said. "You have to be willing to take the risk to get the reward."

Florida Gulf Coast did just that, taking the nerviest, borderline craziest shot in NCAA tournament history and earning the nerviest, borderline craziest win in NCAA tournament history.