FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) Another overtime win sent Florida Gulf Coast back to the NCAA tournament.
Tournament MVP Jenna Cobb scored 19 points, Kaneisha Atwater added 14 points and 11 rebounds, and the top-seeded Eagles found a way to stave off two late rallies and beat Stetson 72-70 in overtime Sunday for the Atlantic Sun title and an automatic berth into the NCAA field. It’s the second NCAA trip in three years for FGCU.
”I’m proud of our team,” FGCU coach Karl Smesko said. ”They were able to pull out this game and keep their composure and play so well during the overtime period.”
FGCU has only been eligible for the NCAA’s since 2012. The Eagles went to the tournament that season, then lost to Stetson in last year’s A-Sun title game and settled for a trip to the WNIT.
This time, they got what they wanted – and needed five extra minutes to get there, just as they did on March 8 at Stetson, when an overtime win gave the Eagles the regular-season title and chance to host the A-Sun title game.
”It’s great for women’s basketball,” Stetson coach Lynn Bria said of the rivalry. ”You’ve got two teams battling, it’s back and forth. It’s like a dogfight out there. This is good. It’s a little better for them because they came out on the upper end.”
Sarah Hansen scored 13 for the Eagles (26-7), who were down nine early in the second half. Hansen made one of two free throws with 3 seconds left, and FGCU escaped when Brianti Saunders’ 3-point try for second-seeded Stetson (26-7) missed at the buzzer.
And now the FGCU women get a chance to do what FGCU’s men did last year – pull off some upsets and gain tons of notoriety. FGCU’s men went to the Sweet Sixteen last season as a No. 15 seed.
”It’s important for our university as a whole,” Hansen said. ”The attention that an NCAA run, an NCAA game can bring to our university, especially being such a young university is a huge advantage.”
Sasha Sims scored 14 for Stetson, including a basket with 9 seconds left in regulation that tied the game at 60-all. Jama Sharp scored 13 and Cherisse Burris and Myeisha Hall each scored 12 points for the Hatters.
The Eagles won all three matchups this season with Stetson, who beat them in the A-Sun title game a year ago.
”They took that from us,” Cobb said.
Atwater scored four straight points midway through overtime, putting FGCU up 68-61. Just like in regulation, though, Stetson had a big run left.
Stetson went on a 9-3 run in less than a minute, getting within 71-70 on a 3-pointer by Sharp with 6 seconds remaining. Hansen followed with one free throw, then helped FGCU get the stop that clinched the NCAA berth.
FGCU prevailed despite going more than 7 minutes without a point, giving up 15 straight during a stretch that started late in the first half. The Eagles were up 27-21, then were down 31-27 at the break and saw the deficit grow to 36-27 early in the second.
C.J. Coddington had all five of her first-half points on consecutive possessions for Stetson during that run, while the Eagles were flat-out cold.
FGCU was only 4 for 17 from 3-point range in the first 20 minutes – while Stetson was 6 for 8 from long range during the half, with Hall going 4 for 4 from beyond the arc in that span. That matched her career-high for 3-pointers in a game entering the day, and she did it in just a 5:46 stretch of the half, scoring 12 straight Stetson points.
Hansen found Whitney Knight for a 3-pointer to end the FGCU drought, and start what became a 28-11 run for the Eagles.
”We’re there,” Smesko said. ”And we’re going to prepare to win. We’re not going there being happy with the fact that we got there. We plan on representing the A-Sun and FGCU really well.”