The Student News Site of Florida Gulf Coast University

Eagle Media

Eagle Media

Eagle Media

Women’s Basketball Fends Off Late Charge by Jacksonville to Advance to ASUN Semifinals

Jessica Piland

On March 9, the Eagles hosted their first game of the 2024 ASUN Women’s Basketball Championship tournament. FGCU entered the tournament looking to defend their 2023 ASUN Championship title. The Eagles soared to a 76-69 victory against the Dolphins to advance to the semifinals of the tournament.

The Jacksonville University Dolphins advanced to the tournament’s quarterfinal round after they beat the Bellarmine University Knights by double digits 79-62. The Dolphins entered this matchup as the lowest seeded team left in the tournament. If they were able to beat the Eagles, the Dolphins would have replicated the feat that their men’s program accomplished in toppling the number one seed.

Both teams’ last regular season game was against one another, as the Eagles destroyed the Dolphins 80-55 on March 2. FGCU looked to replicate that performance to start the ASUN conference tournament.

Fifth-year student Uju Ezeudu began the game by sinking a three to put the Eagles up early. This momentum continued for the Eagles as redshirt junior Emani Jefferson scored the following seven points, giving FGCU a 10-7 lead. The Dolphins were able to stay in striking distance as the Eagles gave up fouls early in the contest.

Story continues below advertisement

Jefferson showed out in the first quarter as she scored ten points in just a matter of five minutes. This allowed the Eagles to grow their lead to 17-10 in a span of two minutes going into a media timeout. FGCU kept the lead through the end of the quarter at 28-17.

Fifth-year student Sofia Persson saw an early exit from the game as she battled through foul trouble. She ended the first quarter with three personal fouls, forcing head coach Karl Smesko to put her on the bench. This rotated fellow fifth-year student Kierra Adams and redshirt freshman Cerina Rolle into the lineup early.

The Eagles remained on the gas pedal, scoring seven of the second quarter’s opening nine points. This culminated in the Eagles’ largest lead of the half of 16 points halfway through the quarter.

Over the course of the second quarter, the physicality increased between the teams. The Eagles and Dolphins combined to commit 12 fouls in the quarter. This physicality continued throughout the rest of the game.

Entering halftime, the Eagles were able to set themselves apart from the Dolphins with their ability to gain points off of turnovers. FGCU scored 16 points compared to Jacksonville’s 8 points through two quarters. FGCU’s defense was the focal point of their first half dominance, yet the defense would hurt them in the second half of the game.

FGCU started the third quarter out hot. The Eagles scored the next 12 points unanswered, giving them a 24-point lead, their largest of the night. It seemed like the Eagles were untouchable, but everything would begin to fall apart from this point forward.

Jacksonville rallied back from the 24-point deficit to end the third quarter down by only 11 points. The main contributor to this comeback by Jacksonville was junior Edyn Battle. She was the leading scorer in the ASUN Conference and finished the game with 33 points.

FGCU began the final quarter on the back foot. Starters Persson, Jefferson and fifth-year student Ajulu Thatha were all in foul trouble with four fouls each. The Eagles would only score four points from the field through the fourth quarter. Their only points through the rest of the quarter came from the free-throw line. Smesko talked about how getting in foul trouble could hurt the team later on.

“We have to get ourselves in a position where we don’t waste any fouls,” Smesko said. “I mean, there’s going to be some fouls at times, but we gotta get rid of the silly ones where we squat down or go over somebody’s back, when we’re clearly not gonna get the rebound.”

Jacksonville’s aggressive playing style allowed them to shrink their 24-point deficit to only four points. This hurt Jacksonville late in the game however, as they committed 10 fouls in the fourth quarter, which saw three Dolphins foul out of the game. This included the departure of Battle, who had scored nearly half of the Dolphins’ total points.

The Eagles held off the Dolphins’ late charge to squeak out a 76-69 victory. Entering this game, they were given less than 24 hours to know who they would play in this round of the tournament. Smesko provided input on this challenge and his thoughts on the tournament’s structure.

“If you’re a team that values preparation, it’s hard for players to have personnel for two different teams and understand how you want to defend situations for two different teams, and then you only have like one shootaround to get ready,” Smesko said.

“I just don’t think it’s a good way to have the tournament,” Smesko said. “I said there’ll be more one’s and two’s getting upset and the style of how they have it. On the men’s side, the one got upset [and] on the women’s side, the two got upset. So I think it’s something that they need to look at.”

With this victory, the Eagles advance to the semifinals of the ASUN tournament to play the seventh-seeded Austin Peay Governors. The Governors carry momentum into the matchup, as they knocked off the second-seeded Stetson Hatters to keep their tournament hopes alive. FGCU hosts this matchup on March 12 to determine who will play in the ASUN Conference Championship game.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributors
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.
Jessica Piland
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!

Comments (0)

All Eagle Media Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *