Monday, March 07, 2016
On to the Big Dance!!
Just a few weeks ago, all of the naysayers were predicting that the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles would not go very far in the playoffs. They play in the Atlantic Sun Conference against seven other teams: North Florida, USC Upstate, Kennesaw State, Jacksonville, Lipscomb, NJIT (Newark, New Jersey), and Stetson. There are many other conferences throughout the nation. The purpose of the exercise is to qualify for the NCAA tournament held every March. Hence the term: “March Madness”.
A team qualifies automatically if they win the conference title. FGCU was on the cusp when the playoffs began. They finished fourth in regular season play, and had to play Kennesaw State in the quarter finals, and won that game 74-64. With that win, they faced the first seed North Florida in the semi-final game. The Eagles shocked the North Floridians 89-56 to earn a berth in the final.
On Sunday night, the Eagles faced the Hatters from Stetson in the St. Petersburgh area. The Hatters were led by an outstanding freshman from California, Derick Newton. Newton entered the game against the Eagles with 531 points, the most by any Hatter since 1996. He was also named to the All-Freshmen team for the conference. His teammate Brian Pegg was named to the Second All Star team. Kevin Ndahiro, a freshman from Ottawa, played almost 20 minutes for the Hatters.
The Eagles matched up well against the Hatters with Marc-Eddy Norelia, and Zach Johnson, a Floridian on the All freshman team.
Zach Johnson Marc-Eddy Norelia
The Alico Arena was packed with almost 5 000 fans. The band was in fine form, the cheerleaders performed admirably as did the school dance team.
Caleb Houston Katie Jones
The Eagles won the tip, and stormed to a 10-0 lead. Coach Corey Williams called a timeout, and settled the young Hatters. He knows a thing or two about the game. He won a title, once upon a time, playing with Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. The Hatters then went on a 16-4 run to take the lead, and finished the first half leading by five points, 35-30.
Coach Williams, after the game.
With six minutes remaining, the Eagles trailed by five points. Zach Johnson cut the lead with two bruising drives to the hoop. Newton replied for the Hatters, and the teams battled to a 69-69 draw at the end of regulation.
Teams were even in almost every regard at that point in the game. Stetson had 32 rebounds to 30 for the Eagles. The Hatters shot 6 for 17 from outside the arc, whereas FGCU nailed only one attempt in seven tries. Neither team did well from the foul shot line. The Eagles shot 66% and the hatters 73%.
The five minutes of overtime basketball proved to be equally exciting, and the crowd was deafening. The lead went back and forth several times. Johnson blocked a shot as time expired, and the Eagles won 80-78.
Norelia was named the tournament MVP. He and his teammates climbed the ladder to cut pieces of net. The spoils for the victors! The Eagles will likely play March 15th or 16th in Dayton, Ohio.
We will be watching, needless to say.