Why Florida Gulf Coast Is the Ultimate Cinderella
Florida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield grew up as the son of a coach in Shippensburg, Pa., a town about 150 miles from Philadelphia, where history happened on Friday night.
As a young boy, Enfield dreamt of games like a 78-68 win over No. 2 seed Georgetown, a coach leading his team over a college-basketball blue blood and its NBA lottery pick.
Only Enfield didn’t dream about it happening at Gulf Coast. No one did. The program is only 11 years old, and the Eagles are in the midst of just their second year eligible for postseason play in Division I. Georgetown has players who have played D-I basketball longer than Gulf Coast has had the opportunity to even play in the NCAAs.
Still, the Eagles had reason to believe all season, as they watched another program down the road climb the polls and into the nation’s consciousness.
That program, Miami, was one that Gulf Coast beat by 12 points in Fort Myers on Nov. 13.
“The Miami win was a long time ago,” Enfield said by phone earlier this week before he left for Philly. “It seems like years ago even though it was a couple months ago; however, we understand we can beat a top-tier team in the country if we play well, and Georgetown is no exception.”
Enfield also believed that he could run the Hoyas. He believed that his team could score against the team that ranked fifth in the country in scoring defense, allowing a mere 55.7 points per game.
“We’re looking to run our style, and we’re not going to change,” Enfield said. “This is who we are. We’re built for an up-tempo style of play. If it takes us a little longer to get a good shot off, that’s okay as long as we get open shots.”
For 20 minutes, it took a little longer to get those shots. Florida Gulf Coast grinded the Georgetown grind and even beat Georgetown at its own game. At the half, the Eagles led, 24-22.
Enfield convinced his team, and maybe even himself, this week that Georgetown was just like the team that the Eagles beat to get here. Mercer was ranked 21st in scoring defense. Mercer played as slow as Georgetown, and Gulf Coast ran. The Eagles ran to an 88-75 win, the most points that Mercer had allowed all season.
At halftime on Friday night, the Hoyas had to believe that they would separate themselves in the second half. The game was at their pace. Otto Porter had made only 2-of-7 shots. Surely, he would get going.
And then, the Eagles ran.
They went on an 18-2 run to take a 19-point lead in the second half. They forced the Hoyas to play at their pace. They became the favorite that the underdog was trying to catch.
This is where we are in college basketball. At some point, these games will no longer surprise us that much. Last season, two No. 15 seeds beat No. 2 seeds. Now, seven have done it.
Enfield coaches a team that fits the Cinderella description, but he’s not a come-out-of-nowhere coach. He has coached in the NBA as an assistant for Mike Dunleavy and Rick Pitino. He was an assistant at Florida State under Leonard Hamilton before taking over in Fort Myers in April 2011.
“I’ve been to three NCAA tournaments, been to the Sweet 16, played in the ACC tournament and played in the ACC championship game,” Enfield said.
Enfield felt like he belonged. He convinced his players that they belonged.
Now, it’s time we realize they belong, too.
*All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
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