BIddle: Florida Gulf Coast fails to hang with Gators' muscle - WKRN News 2

BIddle: Florida Gulf Coast fails to hang with Gators' muscle

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Cinderella crashed and burned as the clock struck midnight Friday at Cowboy Stadium in Texas.

Florida Gulf Coast University learned a hard lesson in losing to 3-seed Florida, 62-50.

It's not how you start. It's how you finish.

The Eagles jumped out front 15-4 on a variety of dunks and deep 3-point shots. The Gators started to climb back in the game and managed to pull even at 24 with 2:44 left in the first half.

The Gators would go on a 16-2 run to close out the first half and take a 30-26 lead. On defense, the Gators held FGCU without a bucket for almost seven minutes.

The momentum the Eagles enjoyed at the start of the game quickly moved to the Gators, and never left.

It was Florida's inside power and strength that wore the Eagles down, both on the boards and field goals inside the paint. They even pulled a trick play in the second half on FGCU when Florida guard Mike Rosario threw a sideline inbounds pass off the backside of an Eagles defender looking and took the ball to the bucket for a dunk.

Eagles point guard Brett Comer had five assists on all five field goals during the early minutes when FGCU went on an 11-0 run. Florida clamped down defensively and the Eagles started unraveling.

But 12 FGCU turnovers in the opening 20 minutes mightily contributed to the Gators' halftime lead, a lead they would never surrender.

"I was shocked at some of the bad turnovers in the first half,'' said FGCU Coach Andy Enfield. "Florida is a great defensive team but some of those, you can't make them up."

The SEC regular season champions weathered the storm and flexed their muscles to eliminate a team that had captured the nation's attention in the first week of NCAA Tournament play.

It was rare enough when the 15-seed Eagles sent 2-seed Georgetown packing. But when they advanced to the Sweet 16 by dumping San Diego State, the basketball world stood up and paid attention. There was good reason, as it had been a magical season for an upstart FGCU team that lost twice to Lipscomb, which had a losing record. They also lost to Stetson and East Tennessee State despite some early season success.

While FGCU averaged 80 points a game in beating Georgetown and San Diego State, the Gators held them to a season low 50 points.

While FGCU was athletic and physical for an Atlantic Sun team, they didn't have the strength and stamina that Florida possessed. Florida muscled up on the boards and played a fast-paced game that FGCU preferred to play. The Gators beat them at their own game.

They held Comer in check, as he scored only four points on one-of-five shooting. The sophomore had seven assists, but also had a game-high nine turnovers in 31 minutes.

As former Auburn and NBA star Charles Barkley so astutely noted at halftime, Florida is an SEC team and SEC teams have weight rooms.

The Gators forced 20 turnovers and pounded both ends of the glass. Sixth man Casey Prather came off the bench in the first half and was credited by Florida Coach Billy Donovan as lighting a fire under the Gators.

Florida tackles Michigan next Sunday in the Elite 8 as the Wolverines benefitted from a Kansas meltdown to knock out the 1-seed Jayhawks in overtime.

Donovan is now 31-10 in tournament play and despite FGCU's two-game magical run, it was Donovan's Gators who kicked sand in the Fort Myers-based team's face.

Contact wkrn.com Sports Columnist Joe Biddle at joebiddle11@gmail.com.

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