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Women’s Basketball Punches Their Ticket to ASUN Tournament After Beatdown of Sugar Bears

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Jessica Piland

In a matchup between the two best teams in the ASUN Conference, the FGCU women’s basketball team came out as the winners over Central Arkansas, 65-43, on Feb. 8. With the win,  the Eagles are the first team to clinch a spot in the 2024 ASUN Conference Women’s Basketball Championship tournament.

Leading up to this game, the Eagles were 19-4 overall and 9-0 in conference play. FGCU defeated Eastern Kentucky in their last game. Coming into their house, the Sugar Bears were no slouches with a 16-6 record and sitting at 8-1 in conference play. Central Arkansas had most recently defeated North Florida and they had a five game winning streak heading in.

With the stage set for a battle between the top two teams in the conference, the game got underway. In the first quarter, defense was a key factor for both teams. Central Arkansas shot the ball well, while FGCU was unable to match that level of offense. However, nine turnovers by the Sugar Bears in the quarter helped the Eagles take a 15-11 lead heading into the second quarter.

Fifth-year student Uju Ezeudu got the scoring going to open the second quarter for the Eagles. But in just a matter of minutes, the Sugar Bears tied the game and then took a brief 20-19 lead with under five minutes left in the first half. On the next possession, redshirt senior Brylee Bartram responded with a bucket to take the lead right back for FGCU as the shot clock expired.

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That lead was the last time Central Arkansas was that close the rest of the night. At the end of the second quarter, redshirt junior Emani Jefferson made a shot to send FGCU into halftime up 31-22.

FGCU was much more effective near the end of the first half as the Eagles went on a 12-2 scoring run in the last four or so minutes. The Eagles also made five out of their last six shots heading into the break.

After a back-and-forth start of the third quarter, FGCU began to separate themselves from Central Arkansas on the scoreboard. Briefly double digit leads for the Eagles were matched by the Sugar Bears but eventually, the Eagles were able to gain a double digit lead that they added to throughout the rest of the game. This was behind a 3-pointer by fifth-year student Sofia Persson that put the Eagles up by 12 points with just under four minutes to go in the third quarter.

To finish the quarter off, the Eagles scored on their last possession as Jefferson missed a layup but secured her own rebound and got another shot away before the buzzer sounded to signal the end of the third quarter. It went in and Jefferson gave FGCU a 49-32 lead with a quarter left.

Despite a whole quarter left to play, FGCU controlled this game, especially in the second half. The Eagles’ lead ballooned to as much as 27 points in the fourth quarter. In the end, the Eagles secured another double digit victory with the 65-43 win. This win gives FGCU a two game lead in the conference standings and a trip to the conference tournament to defend their crown once again. Coach Karl Smesko provided input about what he thought about the win.

“I thought we finished the first half well, so we got up nine or something when it was tied with just a few minutes to go,” Smesko said. “Then, at the beginning of the second half, we got some separation and we want to come out strong and fortunately, we did”.

Four Eagles finished scoring in double figures. Ezeudu led the team with 16 points and also finished with 13 rebounds for a double-double. Senior Dolly Cairns contributed with 11 points on 50% shooting, while Persson and Jefferson each finished with 10 points.

“I love our intensity. I think even when the score got close, we were always like, “okay, next set mindset,” Ezeudu said. “We’re always just focused on how we can be better. Even when it got close, we never put our heads down. We do a really good job of encouraging each other, people on the floor and people on the bench. So I like how we were able to stick together cause a lot of teams are looking for us this year.” 

With the win, not only is FGCU the first team in the conference to clinch a spot in the tournament, but the Eagles improve their record to 20-4 on the season and 10-0 in conference play. The Eagles are now on a 13 game winning streak and hold an impressive 11-0 record at home. Next up for FGCU is North Alabama on Feb. 10 as the Eagles look to keep improving on those records and streaks.

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About the Contributors
James Curtis, Eagle News Sports Editor
James Curtis is a senior majoring in journalism and minoring in global studies. He is from Tampa, FL, and has known he wanted to be a journalist since taking a journalism class in seventh grade. He has been involved in sports for his whole life, including swimming competitively all the way through high school. His goal now is to be a sports journalist. When not covering sports games or writing stories, he's usually spending his free time with his friends or watching YouTube.
Jessica Piland, Eagle News Photo Editor
Jessica Piland is a senior majoring in political science and minoring in global studies. She found her passion for photography during her senior year of high school after shooting some film for fun with her grandfather’s camera from the 80s. In addition to her work as photo editor for Eagle News, she works as a staff photographer for FGCU Athletics and is a photography intern with the University Marketing and Communications department. As she enters her third year as photo editor, she is excited for the fun stories, campus events, and breaking news that Eagle News will be covering!

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