The long ball hadn’t been falling for the FGCU women’s basketball team at all in the second half on Friday against South Dakota State.
Really, nothing had.
After going 5-of-21 to start the second half, including 0-of-14 from three, the Eagles hit their last seven shots – three of them from China Dow — to stave off a comeback and go on to an 87-78 win over the Jackrabbits in a highly-anticipated clash between two top mid-major programs.
“There were parts of the game were we played really, really well, and there were other parts where our bad habits started to creep in,” FGCU coach Karl Smesko said. “This is a great win, but it’s also something we can learn a lot from because South Dakota State helped us see some areas we need to shore up quickly.”
The Eagles led by as many as 16 in the first half – 30-14 to be exact late in the first quarter, and again by 14 just before halftime. But the Jackrabbits were shooting lights out, especially from beyond the arc. South Dakota State, led by 6-of-10 three-point shooting from Madison Guebert, shot 14-of-25 – 56 percent(!) – from the three-point line.
In the first half, that wasn’t a problem, as FGCU was also making shots at will, going 62 percent from the field, and 50 percent, 7-of-14 from three.
But at the half, South Dakota State shifted to a zone, and the shots stopped falling for the Eagles. The Jackrabbits trimmed closer and closer, finally taking the lead in the fourth quarter, and held a 73-69 lead with 3:51 remaining after yet another Guebert three.
There was no panic on the FGCU bench.
“It’s important to have poise, especially after their defense shifted,” said Rosemarie Julien, who led FGCU with 18 points. “You have to knock down shots when you’re open.”
Lisa Zderadicka started the rally with a cut to the basket on a feed from Dow on the baseline, but it was Dow who really got it going from the corner in front of the FGCU bench. A 17-5 run over the next three minutes ensued.
“That was the plan. Get it on the baseline, shot fake and drive, or shoot if you’re open,” Dow said. “I think me and [Taylor Gradinjan] kicked that off with the two back-to-back threes. Even when we were down we tried not to panic and that really helped us along.”
Zderadicka’s layup cut it to 73-71, then Julien stole a pass and raced for an easy layup to tie it at 73. Then Dow hit back to back threes from the corner, sandwiched by a three from Gradinjan, making it 82-75 with 1:10 to go.
“That put them under a little pressure to have to score and they were very efficient but we made some defensive plays in the final minute,” Smesko said.
Seconds later, Dow stole a pass and raced up the floor, getting fouled in the process.
Dow hit her free throws, and Julien a pair shortly after that, and suddenly the Eagles were up 86-75 in the closing minute.
“I thought the second quarter, third and fourth quarter we played really well, and they just made the big shots late. That was a huge momentum swing,” South Dakota State coach Aaron Johnston said. “We played well for big chunks of the game, just didn’t start or finish the way we needed to.”
Five Eagles scored in double figures – Julien, Dow and Gradinjan with 17 each, Erica Nelson had 10, and Tytionia Adderly barely missed a double-double with 11 points and nine rebounds. Macy Miller led the Jackrabbits with 24 points.
NUMBERS TO KNOW
2, 3 – In the Mid-Major Poll, South Dakota State was ranked No. 2, FGCU No. 3 going into Friday’s game.
30 – FGCU’s points scored off of 19 forced turnovers.
1/6 – The date of FGCU’s Atlantic Sun conference-opener against rival Stetson. The last time these two teams met in Alico Arena, Stetson won in overtime to take the ASUN regular-season title.
Florida Memorial, Saturday
Stetson(ASUN), Jan. 6
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