ARLINGTON, Texas — SEC champion Florida is going to its third straight NCAA regional final, while the improbable tournament journey for Florida Gulf Coast is over.
The Eagles, the No. 15 seed few people even knew of on Selection Sunday, had their season end just before midnight Friday with a 62-50 loss to one of the big schools from Florida.
The high-flying team from ‘‘Dunk City’’ jumped to an early 11-point lead. But the No. 3 seed Gators (29-7) and their roster filled with NCAA tourney experience were just too strong and too good. FGCU matched its season low for points.
Michael Frazier made a pair of 3-pointers from the left side, in front of the Gulf Coast bench, to start a 16-0 run late in the first half. Those were Frazier’s only baskets, but they came during a 4½-minute span when the Eagles (26-11) suddenly couldn’t even get off a shot. They missed their only field goal attempt while turning the ball over four times in that span.
That slump finally ended when Sherwood Brown, their dreadlocked senior showman, made a layup in the final minute to get Florida Gulf Coast back within 30-26 by halftime.
But FGCU players walked down the steps of the raised court at Cowboys Stadium at the break with their heads down — much different than the team that looked so loose and ready for a good time after an early 11-0 run — similar to extended spurts they had in upsetting No. 2 seed Georgetown and No. 7 seed San Diego State.
The Gators play Michigan in the South Regional final at Cowboys Stadium on Sunday. They are trying to get to their first NCAA Final Four since consecutive national championships in 2006 and 2007.
After the Gators turned up the defensive pressure, the most fun team this side of the Harlem Globetrotters was suddenly having a lot fewer laughs. Those high-flying dunks and alley-oops weren’t there and Florida forced 20 turnovers.
FGCU heads back to Fort Myers (aka Dunk City), where they have man-made lakes and a beach on campus, having given the tournament a blast of fresh air while its players were just having a blast. The south Florida state school also got about the best free publicity its administrators could ever hope for.
Mike Rosario led the Gators with 15 points, while Scottie Wilbekin had 13 and Casey Prather 11.
Brown led FGCU with 14 points, and Chase Fieler had 12.
The Eagles has 12 turnovers in the first half — one less than they had in each of their first two NCAA tourney games. They took twice as many shots (32-16) as Florida, but that wasn’t enough.