It won’t ping the national radar like the improbable run to the Sweet 16 did in 2013, but Florida Gulf Coast staged another impressive performance in the NCAA Tournament on Tuesday night in the First Four at UD Arena.
The Eagles scored the game’s first 11 points and never gave Fairleigh Dickinson a hint of hope after that as they shot a scorching 59.6 percent to rout the Knights 96-65 in a battle of South Region 16 seeds.
Junior forward Marc-Eddy Norelia made his first seven shots from the floor and finished 10 of 11 for a game-high 20 points, while Demetris Morant was 5 of 6 for 10 points as FGCU improved to 21-13.
“I thought those guys did a nice job playing,” FGCU coach Joe Dooley said. “Meech is a presence around the basket, and I thought Marc-Eddy was very efficient, obviously.”
Norelia also grabbed 10 rebounds to extend his school-record number of double-doubles this season to 15.
Guards Christian Terrell and Julian DeBose added 14 points, while Antravious Simmons scored nine and grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds as FGCU clobbered Fairleigh Dickinson on the boards, 52-33.
The Knights (18-15) hit 6 of 28 attempts (21 percent) in the first half to fall behind by 19 and never recovered, finishing 23 of 70 (32.9 percent).
Earl Potts Jr. led FDU with 16 points, while Marques Townes added 13.
Only one player, reserve forward Filip Cvjeticanin, remains from the 2013 FGCU team, which was seeded 15th when it stunned No. 2 Georgetown in the first round and beat No. 7 San Diego State before falling to Florida in the Sweet 16.
But Norelia isn’t ruling out another run.
“We’re just going to stay confident and believe in ourselves and give it our best effort,” he said. “Anything can happen. As long as we do what coach says, I’m pretty sure we can make it happen, if it’s possible.”
What’s next: FGCU heads to Raleigh, N.C., to face No. 1 seed North Carolina (28-6) at 7:20 p.m. Thursday.
Since the tournament expanded in 1985, 16 seeds are 0-128 against No. 1s.
Pivotal play: Fairleigh Dickinison had closed within 48-33 — the closest the Knights would get in the second half — when Terrell swished a 3-pointer to spark a 13-4 run that pushed the lead back to 24.
Unsung hero: Freshman guard Zach Johnson tied his career highs in assists (seven), rebounds (five) and blocks (two) while going 3 of 3 from the floor for 8 points. One of his assists came on Terrell’s big 3-pointer.
Johnson also had three steals, which was one shy of his career high.
Spotlight Stat: After shooting 6 of 17 from the free-throw line in the first half, FGCU went 14 of 17 after the break.