ARLINGTON, Texas — Florida Gulf Coast University 's magical and historic run in the NCAA tournament that captivated sports fans and made the previously-unknown school a household name finally ran out of legs.
After shocking the country by becoming the first No. 15 seed to advance to the Sweet 16, the Eagles didn't have another upset in them. For the first time in its first tournament appearance, FGCU looked like the underdog rookies in a 62-50 loss to Florida in Cowboys Stadium on Friday night.
The loss ended the season for the Eagles (26-11), who many expected to be watching the Sweet 16 on television. In only its second year of postseason eligibility and sixth in Division I, the Eagles garnered more goodwill and exposure in eight days with two tournament wins than the athletic program's first 13 seasons combined.
"We still made it to the Sweet 16 and made history," senior captain and Atlantic Sun Player of the Year Sherwood Brown said. "I'm proud of our team. They helped me achieve a goal that I never thought I would reach (the NCAA tournament)."
The storylines were too good to ignore. The school with a beach on campus, younger than most fans in attendance Friday, and a business-wiz coach with a supermodel wife became the darling of the tournament with a high-flying, slam-dunking style.
The story came to an abrupt end at the hands of the Gators (29-7), who have more Final Four appearances (four) than FGCU has played NCAA tournament games (three).
Mostly overlooked this week, established power Florida pushed around the new kids on the block. The Gators pressured frazzled FGCU into 20 turnovers with their quick defense, ranked third in the country in points allowed. The larger Gators also grabbed 15 offensive boards and scored 34 points in the paint.
"We've got to not only play hard, but we've got to play smart," junior forward Chase Fieler said. "We had 20 turnovers, they only had 10. That's 10 more possessions (for Florida). They had 15 offensive rebounds, we had six. That's nine more."
Florida plays Michigan in Sunday's Elite Eight round. The winner advances to Atlanta and the Final Four.
Brown led the Eagles with 14 points and six rebounds after scoring 41 points in FGCU's first two tournament games. Fieler added 12 points and six rebounds, while point guard Brett Comer had seven assists, but nine turnovers.
Early on it looked like the Gators would be the next victim of Dunk City's Cinderella story in front of 40,693 underdog-loving fans. FGCU opened up an 11-point early lead with a run that included two of the alley-oop dunks that earned them the nickname.
But Florida woke up thanks to back-to-back 3-pointers by freshman Michael Frazier. The 3s started a 16-0 run that put the Gators up 30-24 after trailing 24-14. FGCU went scoreless for almost five minutes, and went without a field go for more than six minutes. The Eagles trailed 30-26 at the half.
FGCU wasn't intimidated early — not by the Gators or massive Cowboys Stadium.
Six minutes into the game, the Eagles took a 15-4 lead on Fieler's 3-pointer. It was the third straight 3 FGCU hit to open the game, while Florida missed its first five shots from behind the arc.
FGCU lost its lead thanks to turnovers and poor rebounding. The Eagles gave the ball away 12 times in the first half and allowed the Gators 10 offensive rebounds on 19 missed shots. Florida had nine second-chance points before halftime.
The Eagles graduate just two players, Brown and Fort Myers native Eddie Murray. Four starters return, and two transfers become eligible next season after redshirting this year.
"We made history," Comer said. "We did something that nobody in the nation though we would do. I'm proud of our team."