FORT MYERS, Fla. — Dunk City is alive and well.
Florida Gulf Coast revved up its offense and looked very much like the NCAA tournament darling of last season Saturday night, burying East Tennessee State 90-62 in an Atlantic Sun Conference mismatch.
The Eagles (12-8, 6-1) used a 26-4 blitz full of dunks and transition baskets to take complete command of the game. ETSU (9-10, 2-4) made just 4 of its first 24 shots, while the Eagles were 13 of 19.
It was a 44-22 game at half and never got any better for the Bucs, who lost for the fourth time in five games.
“We just got it handed to us,” said ETSU coach Murry Bartow.
The excitement of the Eagles’ run to the Sweet Sixteen last season is still much in evidence.
An overflow crowd of 4,605 packed into Alico Arena and savored every highlight. And there were plenty for the home team, which is now coached by former Kansas assistant Joe Dooley.
“We were able to get stops early and did a good job of attacking the rim,” said Dooley. “That sort of set the tone.”
As blowouts go, this one couldn’t have been much more complete.
ETSU shot 29 percent from the field and was outrebounded 46-36. The Eagles shot 52 percent and posted season highs for points and dunks, with seven.
Eric McKnight, who sat out the first semster with academic problems, had four of those dunks, and Nate Hicks had three. Most came off of lob passes by flashy point guard Brett Comer.
Comer handed out seven assists in just 22 minutes before taking a seat and watching the last 12 minutes. He was playing his first game with a facemask after breaking his nose Thursday night against USC Upstate.
Dooley referred to “our point guard making three saves” after the game, a hockey reference that was only mildly appreciated.
“Coach loves the goalie joke,” said Comer. “He actually brought me a catcher’s mask the first day, but it didn’t work too well. It was weird having pressure on my face the whole time tonight. And it fogged up on me, but it’s OK.”
Junior guard Bernard Thompson scored 21 points on his 21st birthday to lead the Eagles, who maintained a share of first place in the A-Sun with Mercer. McKnight finished with 14 points, and Hicks and Filip Cvjeticanin each scored 10.
Chase Fieler had a quiet night, putting up just five shots, but he grabbed 10 rebounds. The Eagles had twice as many assists (22) as turnovers.
Rashawn Rembert led the Bucs with 18 points -- 13 in the second half. It wasn’t a good road trip for the Tampa native, with family and friends watching the Bucs lose by six Thursday night at Stetson, then get hammered by the Eagles.
“It’s just disappointing, both games,” said Rembert. “We couldn’t find the basket tonight, and they proved why they were a Sweet Sixteen team last year. We thought they just caught lightning in a bottle, but they’re still pretty good.”
Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard was the only other ETSU player to score in double figures, with 11. He fouled out with almost five minutes left.
The Bucs return home for a five-game homestand, beginning Thursday night against North Florida.
All in all, the Eagles put on a good show for an appreciative crowd as they tuned up for a big matchup at Mercer on Thursday night. They could end up hosting A-Sun tournament games under the new format in March, and it would be a huge home-court advantage.
“It was a fantastic atmosphere,” said Bartow. “I’ve been down here a lot and never seen it quite like this. You could feel the buzz 45 minutes before tip.
“In a small environment, when you get 4,600 people in a 4,500-seat arena, it’s a lot different.”