By JIM O’CONNELL
AP Basketball Writer
PHILADELPHIA — Florida Gulf Coast went from shocking the college basketball world to downright impressing it. And the Eagles were smiling the whole time.
Playing loose and easy, little-known FCGU beat San Diego State 81-71 on Sunday to become the first No. 15 seed to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament.
“We don’t take ourselves too seriously,” said Florida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield, whose players tossed him in the air and poured water on him in raucous celebration before his postgame interviews. “We try to have fun, get serious when we have to.
“Our goal was to make history and we did it.”
The next opponent for the upstart state school will be the main campus, third-seeded Florida, on Friday night in the South Regional semifinal in Dallas.
“We tried to scrimmage them early in the season in the preseason, now we get our shot,” Enfield said.
Bernard Thompson had 23 points and Sherwood Brown added 17 for FGCU, the 16-year-old school in just its second season being eligible for postseason play.
In its first-ever NCAA tournament game on Friday, the Atlantic Sun champion busted brackets everywhere with an upset win over No. 2 Georgetown, a game the Eagles took control of with a 21-2 run in the second half.
It went much the same way against San Diego State.
This time the run was 17-0 and Brown, who was saddled early in the second half with foul trouble, had eight of the first 10 points of it. When it was over the Eagles led 71-52 with 4:19 to play and the only decisions left were how the players and fans were going to celebrate.
After at least one basket, Brown opened his mouth and waggled his tongue at FCGU as he ran up court.
And after the game, the whole team joined in a bird dance that the players on the bench.
On the court, FCGU played like it had nothing to lose. And really, the Eagles didn’t. Given their school’s short history, nobody expected them to win a game at the NCAA tournament, let alone two.
Brett Comer, who didn’t have as many lob passes for dunks as he did against the Hoyas, finished with 10 points and 14 assists, some of which resulted in dunks that had the crowd cheering and wanting more.
FGCU even unleashed another offensive weapon. Christophe Varidel, a native of Switzerland, hit two big 3s early for the Eagles and finished with 11 points after going scoreless against Georgetown.
Jamal Franklin had 20 points and 11 rebounds for the seventh-seeded Aztecs (23-11), who were trying to reach the regional semifinals for the second time in three years.
Xavier Thames’ layup brought the Aztecs within 54-52 with 11:33 to play but the Eagles were off on their run about 90 seconds later. FGCU held San Diego State without a field goal for 7 1-2 minutes as it again pulled away again against a teams with much bigger national profile.
The Eagles shot 55.9 percent for the game (33 of 59), including going 7 of 18 from 3-point range.
The Aztecs finished at 44.3 percent (27 of 61) and were 8 of 23 from beyond the arc.
FGCU had one of its highlight plays in the first half when Comer flipped the ball up toward the rim and a flying Eric McKnight grabbed it for a one-hand jam with 8:50 to play that woke up the crowd at the Wells Fargo Center.
Suddenly it sounded a lot like Friday night, when the Eagles had several jams on lob passes that were a big part of the Georgetown upset.
FLORIDA 78, MINNESOTA 64
AUSTIN, Texas — Mike Rosario scored 25 points and Florida used an overpowering first half to roll past Minnesota and into the NCAA tournament round of 16 for third consecutive year.
The No. 3 seed Gators (28-7) shot a blistering 65 percent in the first half and led by 21 by halftime. The win earns Florida a return trip to the Lone Star State to play their next game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
Andre Hollins scored 25 points to lead the No. 11-seed Gophers (21-13). Hollins’ 3-point shooting sparked a second-half rally that pulled Minnesota within seven points, but Rosario’s sixth 3-pointer with 3 minutes left pushed the Gators’ lead back to 16 and effectively locked up the win.
KANSAS 70, NORTH CAROLINA 58
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Kansas got the best of ‘ol Roy and his Tar Heels once again.
Behind the impassioned play of Travis Releford and Jeff Withey, the top-seeded Jayhawks shook themselves out of a first-half slumber and blitzed No. 8 seed North Carolina down the stretch.
Withey had 16 points and 16 rebounds, and Releford finished with 22 points for the Jayhawks (31-5), who also knocked former coach Roy Williams’ team out of the NCAA tournament during their 2008 title run and again last season, when Kansas marched all the way to the Final Four.
It’ll keep marching this year — at least to the Sweet 16 — thanks to a superb second half. The Jayhawks play Michigan in Arlington on Friday.
P.J. Hairston scored 15 points and James Michael McAdoo finished with 11 for the Tar Heels (25-11
LA SALLE 76, MISSISSIPPI 74
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Tyrone Garland banked home a scooping layup with 2 seconds left and 13th-seeded La Salle is deeper into the NCAA tournament since it played for the championship in 1955.
Ramon Galloway had 24 points for the upstarts from the Atlantic 10. The Explorers (24-9) played their third game in five days but showed no sign of fatigue.
In the round of 16 in Los Angeles on Friday, the Explorers will meet ninth-seeded Wichita State.
No. 12 Ole Miss (27-9) led 74-72 with 1:58 left but failed to reach the regional semifinals for the first time since 2001.
After Tyreek Duren’s two foul shots tied it 74-all at the 1:07 mark, Mississippi star and team lightning rod Marshall Henderson missed an off-balance bank shot that would have given the Rebels the lead.
Henderson had 21 points in a game with 11 lead changes
MIAMI 63, ILLINOIS 59
AUSTIN, Texas — Shane Larkin hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with a minute left and Miami gained possession on a ball knocked out of bounds that probably should have gone to Illinois, helping the Hurricanes advance to the round of 16 for the second time in school history.
After Larkin’s first field goal in about 9 1/2 minutes, D.J. Richardson missed a 3-pointer. In the fight for the rebound, the ball appeared to ricochet off the hands of Miami’s Kenny Kadji out of bounds. But the Hurricanes kept the ball, and Durand Scott made two free throws after that.
The Hurricanes (29-6) play Marquette in Washington on Thursday night.
Larkin, the only non-senior starter for Miami and the ACC player of the year, finished with 17 points. Rion Brown had 21 with five 3s.
Brandon Paul had 18 points for Illinois (23-13).
DUKE 66, CREIGHTON 50
PHILADELPHIA — Rasheed Sulaimon scored 21 points, Seth Curry scored had 17 and No. 2 seed Duke held off seventh-seeded Creighton to advance to the round of 16 for the fourth time in five years.
A year after they lost their NCAA tournament opener, the Blue Devils (29-5) are back in the regional semifinal for the 23rd time. They’ll play No. 3 seed Michigan State (27-8) in the regional semifinal Friday in Indianapolis.
Mason Plumlee, Josh Hairston and Ryan Kelly battled foul trouble all game long that could have doomeed the Blue Devils. Creighton (28-8) went cold and never made a serious run in the second half. Doug McDermott scored 21 points but made only four baskets.
With McDermott slumping, the Bluejays were knocked out in the third round by an ACC team for the second straight season