HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. (FGCU Athletics) – In a rematch of last year’s lone Atlantic Sun loss, the FGCU women’s basketball team defeated Northern Kentucky University 67-46 Saturday night at the Bank of Kentucky Center. With the win, the Eagles improve to 20-2 on the season with a 7-0 mark in conference play. On the losing side of FGCU’s 15th-straight win, NKU falls to 13-9 with a 4-3 league record.
The Eagles and Norse battled for the lead in the first half with FGCU maintaining the advantage at the break. The home team cut the deficit to three points early in the second half but with a 21-4 run midway through the second stanza, the Eagles took hold of the game and cruised to a 21-point victory. The team saw four double-figure scorers and 10 3-pointers as the Eagles maintained the nation’s sixth-best win streak.
“I thought we played really unselfishly, offensively and defensively, tonight,” said head coach Karl Smesko of the win in the program’s 400th game. “We got some great production off our bench, especially from [Stephanie] Haas and saw a great game from Whitney [Knight].”
“Whitney is a great player and to get 1,000 points by her junior year shows what type of offensive player she is,” Smesko continued on Knight’s milestone. “She made a huge difference for us today. She got us started early with a couple threes and she made a difference on the defensive end as well. We’re really excited for her to reach this milestone and we’re happy it came in a hard-fought win.”
Whitney Knight (Winston-Salem, N.C./R.J. Reynolds High School) led all players with 18 points and nine rebounds on the night. The redshirt-junior scored the team’s first 11 tallies and recorded her 1,000th career point in the win. Stephanie Haas (Avon Lake, Ohio/Magnificat High School) added 14 points and a career-high eight rebounds, while Kaneisha Atwater (Fort Pierce, Fla./Fort Pierce-Westwood High School/VCU) and Jenna Cobb (New Holland, Ohio/Miami Trace High School/Butler) contributed 11 and 10, respectively. Atwater and DyTiesha Dunson (Albany, Ga./Westover High School) paced the squad with four assists each, with Knight leading on the defensive side with three blocks and three steals.
As a unit, the Eagles converted 39.3 percent of shot attempts from the field with 10 made 3-point shots. The Green and Blue held NKU to a 36.7 percent success rate and outrebounded the home team, 40-31.
With 1,000 points on the horizon, Knight started hot with back-to-back 3-pointers to open the game. After trailing 6-2, NKU responded with eight-straight points inside to take the lead and pushed FGCU into a five-minute scoring drought as the Eagles struggled to convert from the field.
With 12 minutes to play in the half, Knight hit the 1,000 point mark and cut the Eagle dry spell with a 3-pointer from the left side. Knight’s long shot was followed by another from Taylor Gradinjan (Cudahy, Wisc./Cudahy High School) as the Eagles reclaimed the lead at 14-10 midway through the half.
NKU added two shots from the free-throw line but the Green and Blue produced an eight-point run with long-range makes from Haas and Atwater and a layup from Dunson. The run gave FGCU a 10-point lead at 22-12 and pressured the home team into a timeout.
The Norse added a 3-pointer right out of the break but scoring slowed for both teams as FGCU held a 22-15 lead for nearly three minutes. FGCU held onto the lead through the end of the half despite the Norse cutting the deficit to six points in the final minute.
After a Dunson jumper at the buzzer, the Eagles went into the break with a 29-21 advantage.
The Norse increased their offensive intensity to start the second half and quickly cut the Eagle lead to just three points at 33-30 on a seven-point run.
Cobb cut the NKU run with a 3-pointer near the 16-minute mark before Haas increased the lead back to nine points with another three two minutes later. After trading baskets for the next five minutes, Cobb and Haas produced back-to-back layups to increase the advantage to 11 points and catapulted the Eagles into a 14-point run.
The run, which included buckets from Cobb, Haas and Atwater, pushed the Eagles to a game-high 60-37 lead with six minutes left to play. The Eagles maintained a 20-point advantage through the conclusion of the contest to escape with a win, avenging last year’s loss in Highland Heights.
With the 20th win of the season, the Eagles secured their 11th-straight 20+-win campaign and become the fifth team in all of NCAA Division I women’s basketball to hit the mark.
The team will resume action for the second half of the A-Sun slate with a road contest at Stetson Saturday, Feb. 7. The afternoon bout is slated for 1 p.m. and will be part of a men’s/women’s double header with the FGCU men’s program.