TIM REYNOLDS, AP Basketball Writer
FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — The “Dunk City” moniker is on their shirts, on the doors to their arena, on every press release they send out about men’s basketball at Florida Gulf Coast.
And yes, those highlight-reel dunks are still happening.
But defense — not dunks — got FGCU back into the NCAA Tournament.
Brandon Goodwin scored 19 points and FGCU dominated the second half to earn its third NCAA berth in the last five seasons with a 77-61 win over North Florida in the Atlantic Sun Conference championship game on Sunday. The Eagles trailed by six at the half, then outscored the Ospreys 44-22 and held them to 19 percent shooting in the final 20 minutes.
“We sort of figured it out at halftime,” FGCU coach Joe Dooley said.
Demetris Morant and Marc-Eddy Norelia each scored 14 for the Eagles (26-7). Zach Johnson and Christian Terrell added 10 apiece for FGCU, which tied the program’s Division I-era record for victories in a season.
“I definitely feel like we can compete with anyone in the country,” Goodwin said. “We know what we’re capable of and if we do all that coach asks of us, we can definitely win.”
The school best known for its “Dunk City” run to the Sweet Sixteen in 2013 also went to the NCAAs last season, winning a First Four game before falling to eventual national finalist North Carolina. And when the bracket comes out next Sunday, someone is going to surely be reminded that the NCAA stage tends to bring out FGCU’s best.
“They’re going to be a tough out for anybody who has to play them,” North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll said. “That’s for sure.”
Dallas Moore, the leading active scorer in Division I, had 19 points for North Florida (15-19). Wajid Aminu scored 11 and Garrett Sams added 10 for the Ospreys.
Goodwin started the second half with a three-point play and it didn’t take long for the Eagles to grab control. His free throws with 16:36 left put FGCU on top for good, and started what became a 17-7 run that set the tone for what became a championship celebration.
“They completely dominated us in the second half,” Driscoll said. “They dominated every phase. … We got some good looks, but they were better.”
North Florida: The Ospreys were bidding to be the 26th team to get into the NCAA Tournament with a losing record. … UNF fell to 4-13 on the road. … The Ospreys made five of their last seven shots of the first half — before shooting 5 for 27 in the entire second half.
Florida Gulf Coast: Morant’s first dunk of the game was FGCU’s 149th of the season — one more than the original team with the “Dunk City” label had in 2012-13. The Eagles finished with nine on Sunday. … FGCU is 12-1 in its last 13 games. … Goodwin (now with 601) broke the FGCU single-season scoring record, established last year when Norelia scored 597 points.
The rivalry between the schools has very distinct ebbs and flows. FGCU won the first six meetings, UNF won the next seven, FGCU then won five straight, UNF took the next three — and now, each of the last five have been won by FGCU.
Moore started all 135 games of his career at North Florida. He entered Sunday as the nation’s No. 4 scorer this season at 24.0 points per game, and increased his career total to 2,437. “He barely even missed a practice,” Driscoll said.
Florida Gulf Coast awaits its NCAA Tournament matchup, to be announced March 12.
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