FGCU women’s basketball stunned by FAU in home opener
After a very successful 2014-15 season that saw the FGCU women’s basketball team capture its fourth consecutive Atlantic Sun Conference Championship and reach the second round of the NCAA tournament, the Eagles unveiled its newest addition to the Alico rafters in front of an excited home crowd, with two banners representing its achievements from last season.
The FAU Owls ruined the Eagles celebration with a 62-55 victory Tuesday, handing the Eagles their first home loss since Dec. 29, 2013 where they were defeated by Saint Joseph’s.
The Eagles previously had the third longest regular season win streak behind UConn and South Carolina with 27 wins.
After a sloppy first quarter where the Eagles turned the ball over seven times, the Eagles were able to go into the second quarter tied at 13, thanks to a buzzer-beater three from FGCU guard Stephanie Haas.
The Eagles turned it around in the second quarter with a well-rounded offensive and defensive effort, ending the first half shooting 53 percent from the field and limiting the Owls to just 33 percent from the field. After tallying 11 turnovers by the half, the Eagles went into the break with a 32-25 lead over the Owls.
After the half, it seemed like the Eagles would start pulling away from the Owls when guard Taylor Gradinjan hit a three to extend the Eagles lead to 10. After a quick layup by the Owls, the Eagles would run into a cold spell, going 0-11 from the field, allowing FAU to come back and take a 35-36 lead with three minutes to go in the third quarter. After going 6 minutes without a basket, the Eagles rediscovered their offensive flow and traded blows with the Owls going into the fourth quarter down by three.
In a fourth quarter that saw five lead changes between both teams, the Eagles weren’t able to stop the Owls from continuing to attack the paint and get second-chance opportunities. The Eagles had their chances to extend and hold onto their three leads they had in the fourth quarter, but they were unable put away layups and three-point opportunities. The game was put to bed when the Owls two-point lead, 56-54, was extended to a five-point 59-54 lead after a missed layup at the other end by FGCU’s forward Katie Meador, with just 1:30 left in the game. The Eagles would respond with a quick bucket, trimming the lead to three points, leaving 33 seconds left on the clock.
Due to the short amount of time, the Eagles were forced to send the Owls to the free-throw line to slow down the clock and get a chance to tie the game. The Owls only made one of their two free throws, giving the Eagles 33 seconds to tie the game. Haas drove to the lane and missed a layup, which was rebounded by her teammate Meador, who attempted to lay the ball back in but missed, and the ball was then rebounded again by the Eagles when Haas returned the favor.
Head Coach Carl Smesko called a timeout with 11 seconds left in the game to try and draw up a play that would bring the game within two. The Eagles quickly came out of the timeout with a three-point attempt from guard Kaneisha Atwater, but she was unable to convert, and the Owls rebounded the ball where they were once again sent to the free-throw line. The Owls’ Morgan Robinson converted both free throws and put the game out of reach for the Eagles, putting the Owls up 62-55.
“We wouldn’t have finished a game like that last year,” said Kellie Lewis-Jay, the FAU head coach. “If we would have gone down ten last year, it would have converted to 20, then 30, but with having seniors this year, compared to not having any last year, their drive and their leadership really helped the team pull out the win.”
With star Whitney Knight out due to a small fracture in her left foot, the Eagles really missed Knight on the offensive and defensive side of the ball.
“FAU outplayed us in the second half,” Smesko said. “They dominated the boards. They took advantage of our defensive breakdowns, and we couldn’t get going offensively. Our defense was really impacted by our lack of offense.”
Knight was the leading shot blocker, rebounder and three-point shooter made for the Eagles last year, and you could tell they missed her, being outrebounded 45-34 and having shot only 26 percent from three.
“Obviously, Whitney is a great player, especially on the offensive end,” Smesko said. “It would have been nice to have her, but you win or lose games based on who’s on the floor. We aren’t going to have Whitney for a while, and we are going to have to play players we weren’t planning on playing this early in the season, and they are going to have to continue to get better.”
The Eagles will look to bounce back from their loss when they travel to Akron, Ohio to play in the Akron classic on Nov. 20 and 21.