DAYTON, Ohio – Dunks put Florida Gulf Coast University on the national radar three years ago.
Tuesday night in the first game of the 2016 NCAA Tournament, a dunk started a dominant performance by 16th-seeded FGCU (21-13) over fellow 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson (18-15) as the Eagles cruised to a 96-65 win, moving on to face top-seeded North Carolina Thursday night in Raleigh.
Redshirt freshman Zach Johnson (Miami, Fla./Norland HS) threw the alley, and Demetris Morant (Miami, Fla./UNLV/Bishop Gorman HS) completed the oop which put FGCU in front just 15 seconds into the contest. The Eagles opened the game on an 11-0 run, extended it to 21 at the half and never allowed FDU to lead en route to their third NCAA Tournament win in four years.
FGCU will face the Tar Heels at PNC Arena, just 20 miles from UNC’s campus in Chapel Hill, at 7:20 p.m. on TBS.
Marc-Eddy Norelia (Orlando, Fla./Tulane/Olympia HS) led a quartet of double-figure scorers for the Eagles with his 15th double-double of the year, tallying a game-high 20 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. Julian DeBose (Washington, D.C./Rice/St. John College HS) and Christian Terrell (Jacksonville, Fla./Providence HS) both tallied 14 points, with Terrell securing nine rebounds.
Morant added 10 points and six rebounds for the Eagles, who are now 3-1 all-time in the NCAA Tournament. Norelia and Morant combined to shoot 15-17 from the floor as each junior missed just one shot. Norelia’s 10-11 effort from the field (91 percent) is tied for the 2nd-best performance in single-game program history, bested only by an 11-11 effort by Eric McKnight in 2014
The Eagles shot a torrid 59.6 percent (34-57) – its best against a D-I opponent this year – out-scored the Knights in the paint, 44-24, and out-rebounded the Northeast Conference Tournament Champions, 52-33 – with the 52 rebounds being the most in a regulation game this year.
“It’s got to give us some confidence,” surmised FGCU head coach Joe Dooley about the performance and upcoming contest with UNC. “The guys did a nice job on the quick turnaround of paying attention. We had a few slipups, like you’ll always have, but I thought Marc-Eddy and Demetris protected the basket. And let’s cut to the chase – they missed a couple of chippies too. I think both teams were a little jittery. You could see it in our free-throw shooting, but we just started plugging away, plugging away and I thought our guys did a good job of using our depth.”
The Eagles passed out a D-I program record 27 assists on the 34 made baskets. Johnson posted an all-around effort with eight points, five rebounds and a career-high-tying seven assists. Fellow Miami native Antravious Simmons (Miami, Fla./VCU/South Miami HS) just missed his second-consecutive double-double with nine points – all in the 2nd half – and corralled a game-high 11 rebounds. Freshman Rayjon Tucker (Charlotte, N.C./Northside Christian Academy) just missed double figures as well with eight points on 3-3 shooting and passed out three assists in nine minutes of action.
FDU was led offensively by Earl Potts Jr. with 16 points, while Marques Townes added 13 and Darian Anderson netted 11. FGCU limited FDU to just 21.4 percent from the floor (6-28) in the first half before finishing 32.9 percent (23-70) for the game. The Eagles are now 11-2 on the year when holding their opponent below 40-percent shooting.