FGCU wins again to earn another home game in the WNIT

Author: Jamie Church, FGCU
Published: Updated:

A tremendous defensive performance led the FGCU women’s basketball team to a 67-48 win over Wake Forest Monday night in the Second Round of WNIT action. With the win over the ACC foe, the Eagles move to 30-5 on the year and advance to the third round of the postseason tournament. Wake Forest’s season ends at 17-16 overall.

The Eagles will appear in the WNIT Third Round for the first time in program history and will welcome Tulane University for a 7 p.m. game Wednesday, Mar. 23 at Alico Arena. The Green Wave defeated Georgia Tech 64-61 Monday in New Orleans and are now 22-11 on the season.

Tickets to see the Eagles take on the Green Wave start at just $10 and are available via FGCUTickets.com or through the FGCU Ticket Office. FGCU students with a valid Eagle ID are admitted free of charge, while students from other institutions are $5. Complete information can be found at FGCUTickets.com.

The win pushes FGCU to a second-straight 30-win season. The Eagles are currently one of just eight teams to hit the milestone this season, joining Connecticut, Baylor, South Carolina, Notre Dame, Colorado State, Maryland and Oregon State.

FGCU allowed the Demon Deacons to the first two points of the game before holding Wake Forest scoreless for over six minutes in the first quarter. The Eagles’ offense sparked during that span with senior Kaneisha Atwater (Fort Pierce, Fla./Fort Pierce-Westwood High School/VCU) scoring nine-straight points for the Green and Blue. FGCU’s intensity increased through the first half as the Eagles outscored Wake Forest 31-15 during the first 20 minutes. The Eagles knocked down seven 3-pointers in the second half to increase their lead to a game-high 25 points midway through the fourth quarter and maintained the heavy advantage through the final minutes.

“This was a really nice effort by our players,” said head coach Karl Smesko. “I thought we came out and executed at a really high level. Offensively, we had a lot of movement and we made good decisions with the ball. This is a really good win for us.”

As a unit, the Eagles shot 40.3 percent on the night with a 36 percent clip from 3-point range. FGCU was outrebounded 38-35 but scored 23 points by forcing 19 Wake Forest turnovers. The Deacons shot 36 percent on the night with just two long-range makes on eight attempts but edged FGCU at the free throw line with a 10-for-12 performance.

Atwater led all players with 23 points and eight rebounds, while classmate Stephanie Haas (Avon Lake, Ohio/Magnificat High School) added a season-high 18 points off the bench. DyTiesha Dunson (Albany, Ga./Westover High School) dished out seven of the team’s 12 assists and added eight points for FGCU.

Wake Forest took a quick lead as the visiting team scored on its opening possession and the Eagles started the game 0-for-5 from the floor. After four scoreless minutes, Atwater was fouled on a successful drive to the rim and gave FGCU its first lead of the game with the 3-point play. Atwater followed with a second-chance layup and knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the arc to force Wake Forest into a timeout with an eight-point run. The FGCU defense limited Wake’s opportunities over a six-minute span as Atwater, Dunson and Katie Meador (Salem, Ill./Salem Community High School) gave FGCU a double-figure lead with another string of points. Haas followed with back-to-back layups in the final minute of the quarter to push the score to 20-7 after just one quarter of action.

Haas’ run continued in the second quarter as the senior added another layup on the team’s opening drive. Atwater and Whitney Knight (Winston-Salem, N.C./R.J. Reynolds High School) drove through pressure on consecutive possessions to push FGCU’s lead to 19 points. The Deacs stopped the run and traded buckets with the home team late in the quarter but FGCU maintained the heavy advantage through the end of the first half.

FGCU held Wake Forest to a 22.7 percent clip from the floor in the first half for the team’s worst shooting performance in a half this season. The visitors sank just five field goals and turned the ball over 12 times to give FGCU the game’s momentum at the break.

Wake Forest held a slight advantage at 17-16 in the third quarter but FGCU maintained the double-digit lead despite the increase in offensive production. The home team entered the final 10-minute span with a 47-32 edge.

FGCU allowed Wake Forest to a layup to open the final quarter but the Eagles quickly responded with a 14-2 run. The streak included 3-pointers from Taylor Gradinjan (Cudahy, Wisc./Cudahy High School) and Haas as FGCU pushed ahead to a game-high 25 point lead. The teams traded points in the final six minutes with the Deacs edging closer but never able to cut the deficit. The Eagles maintained the double-figure advantage and earned a 67-48 victory after the 40-minute bout.

The win over Wake Forest stands as the program’s fifth victory over an ACC team and marks FGCU’s fifth win in six appearances in the WNIT. The Eagles previously earned wins over Drexel, George Washington, USF and Bethune-Cookman. Monday’s win marks the team’s first second-round victory.

With 16 teams remaining in the 2016 WNIT field, the Eagles will host the American Athletic Conference’s Tulane in Wednesday’s third-round contest. Tipoff at Alico Arena is set for 7 p.m. With a win over the Green Wave, the Eagles would advance to the WNIT Quarterfinals against the winner of Tuesday’s Hofstra-Virginia matchup with a date to be determined.

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