FGCU WBB finishes perfect A-Sun season

Author: FGCU Athletics
Published: Updated:

FORT MYERS, Fla. (FGCU Athletics) – For the third time in four seasons, the FGCU women’s basketball team finished the Atlantic Sun Conference season with an unblemished record as the Eagles moved to 14-0 Saturday night with a 78-47 win over Jacksonville. The No. 21/22 Eagles finish the regular season with a mark of 27-2 on the year and set a new FGCU Division I record with their 22nd-straight victory. With the loss, the Dolphins fall to 11-16 on the season with a 6-8 record in conference play.

FGCU and JU battled back and forth in the opening minutes but the Eagles used a 15-2 run late in the first half to take an 18-point lead into the break. Junior Kaneisha Atwater (Fort Pierce, Fla./Fort Pierce-Westwood High School/VCU) accounted for 37 percent of the team’s scoring with 29 points as the Eagles capitalized on opportunities at the post and at the free throw line. FGCU finished with 46 points in the paint and 21 free throws on 25 attempts to run past the visiting team. The Green and Blue extended the lead to a game-high 33 points late in the game and ultimately earned the 78-47 win to move to 13-0 at home this season.

“The game was pretty close in the first half but we were able to make a nice run to finish the half,” said head coach Karl Smesko. “I didn’t think we played great defense to start the second half but later in the half Kaneisha got us easy baskets at the rim. Kaneisha played a great game on both ends. Atwater, Dunson and Meador all had excellent, excellent games on both ends and I’m really happy with that.”

Atwater led all players with 29 points in 31 minutes on the floor. She went 11-for-14 from the field with seven made free throws on eight attempts. And grabbed four steals and four rebounds. DyTiesha Dunson (Albany, Ga./Westover High School) and Katie Meador (Salem, Ill./Salem Community High School) also contributed double figures, each with 13 points. Like Atwater, Meador went 7-for-8 from the free-throw line and pulled down five rebounds to lead the team.

The Eagles shot 56 percent in the first half to take control of the game and finished with a 49.1 percent clip on the night, while holding JU to 35.6 percent. FGCU shot just 23 percent from 3-point range but converted 84 percent of shots from the charity stripe. Jacksonville narrowly outrebounded the home team, 32-21, but the Green and Blue forced 22 JU turnovers with just 12 of its own.

Atwater set the tone for the night as the junior controlled the tipoff and drove to the hoop right away. Atwater was fouled on the made layup, giving FGCU a 3-0 lead in the first five seconds of action. Jacksonville responded with a long-range shot just 10 seconds later but Atwater pushed the lead to 5-3 in the opening minutes before both teams slowed the pace.

The game saw a five-minute drought from both teams before Meador used a left-handed layup to cut the dry spell and give FGCU a 9-5 lead. After six JU turnovers, the visiting team capitalized on an FGCU miscue and cut the deficit to 9-8 before taking their only lead at 10-9 midway through the half.

Atwater drew another traditional 3-point play to reclaim the lead at 12-10 and again drove to the rim to give the Eagles a 14-12 advantage. The Dolphins used a single free throw to cut the score to 14-13 but a two Whitney Knight (Winston-Salem, N.C./R.J. Reynolds High School) layups and a rare mid-range jumper from Taylor Gradinjan (Cudahy, Wisc./Cudahy High School) pushed the lead back to seven points.

With a six-point lead, Dunson converted the team’s first long-range shot of the night, exciting the crowd and moving the lead to 25-15 with five minutes to play.

The Dolphins scored four points to get back within five near the four-minute mark but the Eagles sparked their quickest run of the game with seven points over a span of just 44 seconds, sending JU into a timeout with 3:10 on the clock. The run included a 3-point play from Meador and consecutive layups from Stephanie Haas (Avon Lake, Ohio/Magnificat High School) and Atwater.

Jacksonville scored just two more points from the free-throw line before points from Dunson, Atwater and Meador gave the home team another eight-point run and sent the Eagles into the break with a 39-21 lead.

The teams again traded points to start the second half before slowing the pace of the game down for a series of possessions. With 14 minutes to play, Gradinjan extended the lead to 20 points with a 3-point shot from the left side and Atwater followed with a traditional 3-point play.

The Eagles maintained a 24-point lead through the midpoint of the second half and used baskets from Atwater, Jenna Cobb (New Holland, Ohio/Miami Trace High School/Butler) and Haley Laughter (Asheville, N.C./Carolina Day School) to construct a 12-4 run in the last four minutes of play. With the run, the Green and Blue extended the advantage to a game-high 33 points at the last minute of action before allowing JU to score on its final possession, bringing the score to 78-47 at the final buzzer.

With the No. 1 seed, the Eagles will host each game of the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship at Alico Arena. The first round is slated for 7 p.m. on Friday, Mar. 6. against the no. 8 seeded Ospreys of North Florida. The tournament continues Wednesday, Mar. 11 with the championship game scheduled for Sunday, Mar. 15.

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