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Women’s Basketball Wins Foul-Heavy Game Against Southern Miss

Jessica Piland/FGCU Athletics

The FGCU women’s basketball team returned to Alico Arena for their second game in the Homewood Suites Classic on Dec. 21. They played against the 7-2 Southern Miss Lady Eagles, who lost their first game of the classic against the then 10-2 Cleveland State Vikings the night before. It was the Eagles who came out on top over the Lady Eagles, 78-62.

The Eagles entered their game against the Lady Eagles coming off of a double digit blowout win against Drexel University. This improved their record this season to 8-4 with five of those wins in front of the home crowd.

As tipoff began, the Eagles immediately lost possession of the ball. Southern Miss capitalized on this mistake by scoring the first points of the game. FGCU rallied back as they scored the next 10 points unanswered. This was largely behind fifth year player Ajulu Thatha scoring a 3-pointer, two shots made from the free throw line and a layup.

Southern Miss was able to come back due to FGCU’s mistakes on offense. The Lady Eagles scored six of their next 11 points off of turnovers which allowed them to end the first quarter holding a 19-18 lead.

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FGCU started the second quarter hot as they scored nine points in under three minutes. This flustered Southern Miss as they immediately called a time-out to try to construct a plan to counter the Eagles’ offense.

Southern Miss started to utilize a full-court press. This was just the beginning of what became an aggressive, foul-heavy game where the Lady Eagles attacked the ball every opportunity that they had. Things got heated on the sideline with a Southern Miss player getting vocal with a Dirty Bird in the stands. The first half ended with the Eagles up, 36-29.

Throughout the half, Southern Miss outclassed the Eagles in the paint on both sides of the ball. The Eagles stayed in the game by utilizing the 3-point line and free throw opportunities in which they were 5/17 and 7/14 respectively. Southern Miss was only able to score one free throw between the two statistical categories.

The third quarter was a complete turnaround from what the game had been so far. There were only two fouls committed through ten minutes of play, with both teams not gaining any notable advantage over each other. FGCU and Southern Miss scored 19 points each in the quarter, which ended with FGCU still holding their lead, 55-48.

The final quarter saw the Eagles pull away from the Lady Eagles. Southern Miss tried to stay in the game through their aggressive style of play, yet that led to multiple fouls, including a technical foul called on their coach. FGCU won the game, 78-62, winning both of their games in the Homewood Suites Classic.

Both teams ended the game with 32 fouls between each other. Head coach Karl Smesko discussed how his team was able to combat the aggressive nature of the game.

“Just have to keep your composure. They’re gonna have some contact, they’re gonna pressure the ball, they’re looking to force turnovers and you’re going to have to be strong with the ball in those situations,” Smesko said. “They attacked the rim a lot, too. So we have to be able to guard it without fouling.”

All five of the Eagles’ starters produced double-digit numbers in points, as senior Dolly Cairns led the Eagles with 15 points. She provided input into what it means to be able to put up double-digits in points during this recent stretch of games.

“Yeah, I think something that’s really important is that it can be anybody’s opportunity. I just try to step up and make plays when my time comes,” Cairns said.

With this win, FGCU has improved their record to 9-4 on the season and now won 20 consecutive games at home. This marks the sixth-longest active home winning streak in the NCAA. 

“That was a great way to finish out the nonconference. So we’re looking forward to carrying that momentum into [ASUN] conference [play] and we love this crowd. We love everybody who supports us. So we’re really looking forward to [ASUN] conference [play],” Cairns said.

FGCU will return to the court at Alico Arena to play Webber International University tonight. This will be the final game for the FGCU women’s basketball team in 2023.

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About the Contributor
Jeffrey Hrunka
Jeffrey Hrunka, Eagle News Assistant Sports Editor
Jeffrey Hrunka is a junior double majoring in communications and journalism with a concentration in public relations. Jeffrey is from Fort Myers where his interest in sports journalism originated after falling in love with the world of motorsports. When he’s not working for Eagle News, he is usually spending time with friends, watching the New York Giants lose, or chilling in the pool.

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