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Women’s Basketball Soars to Undefeated Conference Record by Defeating Dolphins

Jessica Piland/FGCU Athletics

To close out the regular season, the FGCU women’s basketball team entered Alico Arena on March 2 to face the 10-18 Jacksonville University Dolphins. Both teams had nothing on the line to play for as they both were already locked into their respective spots for the 2024 ASUN Women’s Basketball Championship. The Eagles dominated the Dolphins 80-55 to finish a perfect 16-0 in regular season conference play.

For many Eagles, it would be the final time they would play a regular season game at home. Fifth-year students Sofia Persson, Ajulu Thatha, Uju Ezeudu and Kierra Adams, redshirt senior Brylee Bartram and graduate student Shekinah Guthrie were all honored before the game started for senior night. The Eagles looked to close out the season by winning their 19th straight game.

The first quarter saw the Eagles start from behind as the Dolphins sank a 3-pointer to jump out to an early lead. The Dolphins used this momentum, along with mistakes from the Eagles, to grow their lead to seven points within the first five minutes.

FGCU rallied back by scoring from the free-throw line, utilizing Jacksonville’s aggressiveness against them. The Eagles obtained their first lead of the game with a free throw made by redshirt freshman Cerina Rolle. Both teams continued to go back-and-forth but senior Dolly Cairns hit a 3-pointer to close out the quarter with the Eagles ahead 18-16.

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Jacksonville started the second quarter hot though by scoring five points in the first minute. However, the Eagles were able to get the lead back in short order and hold on to it. No one player dominated the quarter for FGCU as seven Eagles combined for 17 points to enter halftime with a 35-25 lead.

The Eagles’ dominance in scoring points off turnovers by the Dolphins allowed them to hold the lead at the end of the first half. Most of the Eagles’ points came off the bench to that point, with Ezeudu and Cairns combining for 17 points in the first half.

Although the Eagles had been the better team in this contest by halftime, they struggled in certain spots. The team known for “Raining 3s” shot just 3/16, good for 19% from three at the half. This statline would not improve as the Eagles ended the game shooting just 5/23, good for just 22%, from the 3-point line.

Throughout the next two quarters, the Dolphins had nothing to offer the Eagles as they were outscored by 15 points in the last 20 minutes.

Persson controlled the second half for the Eagles, as she did not miss a single shot in the half. She would go 5/5 from the field, 2/2 from the 3-point line and 2/2 on free throws totaling 14 points in the two quarters. She led the charge in claiming an 80-55 victory in her final regular season game for the Eagles.

Three Eagles reached double digit points in the game. Persson and redshirt junior Emani Jefferson scored 16 points apiece, while Ezeudu put up 17 points in the win. Ezeudu provided input about what she thought about her dominant performance in her final regular season home game.

“I think, like coach said, every senior got out there and played hard. And that’s what I just love. I love playing with my teammates,” Ezeudu said. “I’m not really the individual person when it comes to scoring or anything, so I’m happy we got the win and happy for all the other seniors.”

Ezeudu transferred to FGCU from the University of Denver for the Eagles’ 2022-23 season. She discussed what has been her favorite part about being with the team over the last two years.

“Just being around, we have such great individual personalities that you can’t find anywhere else,” Ezeudu said. “So, just being able to soak these moments in because I know once I get out in the real world, I won’t be surrounded by 13 other girls who are just as crazy as I am.”

FGCU exits the regular season with a 26-4 overall record and most importantly, an undefeated 16-0 ASUN Conference record. The Eagles finished the regular season undefeated at home as well with a 15-0 record. The Eagles enter tournament play with the one seed, allowing them to host every one of their tournament games. For head coach Karl Smesko, this is the seventh time he has led the Eagles to an undefeated conference record. He discussed what it meant to host a conference tournament at Alico Arena.

“Well, the best thing is when you have an undefeated conference season, you know you won the championship. So that was our goal,” Smesko said. “We wanted to host this ASUN  tournament. We get to have it all here. We’re really hoping over the next week that this tournament gets promoted and we can have the stands filled because this team, a lot of people kind of doubted them early.”

With the first seed, FGCU bypasses the first round of the 2024 ASUN Women’s Basketball Championship tournament. The Eagles will wait to play the winner of the first round matchup between the ninth-seeded Jacksonville University Dolphins and the 10th-seeded Bellarmine University Knights before facing the winner in the quarterfinals on March 9.

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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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