Men’s basketball: FGCU Eagles return to nest exhausted but ecstatic

Members of the FGCU men's basketball team are greeted outside of Alico Arena by fans and students early Monday morning after the team returned from Philadelphia following an 81-71 upset over San Diego State. Scott Butherus/Staff

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Members of the FGCU men's basketball team are greeted outside of Alico Arena by fans and students early Monday morning after the team returned from Philadelphia following an 81-71 upset over San Diego State. Scott Butherus/Staff

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— Before the doors of the charter bus carrying the Florida Gulf Coast University men’s basketball team even had a chance to swing open, a throng of weary-eyed fans converged to show their support for the hottest team in the nation.

A trio of police officers tried to hold the crowd at bay, but they soon learned the same lesson that both Georgetown and San Diego State found out in the NCAA Tournament: You can’t hold back destiny.

“We’re so proud of our Eagles and how far they’ve come and how united this school has become because of it,” said Nikki McTernan, who was one of the 300 exhausted – yet ecstatic — fans on hand.

One of the first to offer up a heartfelt bear hug to those stepping off the bus was redshirt guard Jamail Jones, who has practiced with the team all season but didn’t make the trip to Philadelphia with his teammates.

“Like any teammate should be, I can’t even put into words how happy I am,” Jones said.

The Eagles returned to Alico Arena, the capitol of the newly dubbed “Dunk City,” shortly before 4 a.m. Monday, having made history. With its 81-71 victory over the Aztecs, FGCU became the first team ever to advance to the “Sweet 16” as a No. 15 seed.

“I feel like we accomplished what we needed to accomplish so it feels pretty good,” said forward Eric McKnight, who helped cement the term “Dunk City” with some aerial acrobatics on his way to a nine-point, four-block night.

“Slowly it’s setting in. It’s still pretty unreal,” center Eddie Murray said. “It seemed like just a dream and now we’ve made it a reality.”

“Unbelievable,” said guard Chase Fieler, who had 11 points against the Aztecs. “You can’t put words to this. We’re making history.”

“We see it right here, man. This is a great moment right now. You can start to feel it. It is really setting in,” McKnight said.

The university will hold a pep rally to honor the team today at 6:30 p.m. at Alico Arena, and then it will be back to work for the Eagles, who will face the University of Florida in the next round of the tournament on Friday in Dallas’ Cowboys Stadium.

“Obviously, we’ll enjoy what we’ve done so far but at the same time we have to prepare for Florida,” Murray said. “We leave in like two days, so we’ve got to stay focused but still enjoy it all.”

NCAA Tournament

The Florida Gulf Coast men's basketball team was the first 15-seeded team to advance to the Sweet Sixteen. The March Madness run ended in Texas where the Eagles were defeated by the Florida Gators 60-52 on Friday, March 29 in Cowboys Stadium. Join in on the discussion by using the hashtag #ndnfgcu in your Twitter updates and/or Instagram photos.

Get complete coverage of FGCU's road to the NCAA tournament at dunkcitypride.com »

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