The FGCU women’s basketball team hit their stride in the second half to put away North Florida, 67-52 on Tuesday, and get revenge on the Ospreys for their lone conference loss of the season.
“That was one of the top priorities,” senior China Dow said. UNF beat then No. 25 FGCU 75-73 on Feb. 1. Dow led the Eagles with 19 points Tuesday. “[We] wanted to show them what we really could’ve done. We slacked that game and we had to pick it up. We know we could beat that team.”
A 24-6 stretch in the second half turned what looked like another potentially tense game with the Ospreys into one broken wide open.
After a three from Ty Purifoy trimmed the FGCU lead to 32-30 midway through the third, the Eagles(22-4, 8-1 ASUN) finally started to find their stroke. Taylor Gradinjan hit a three curling off a screen, then Erica Nelson nailed one from the right wing to make it 38-30. Dow forced a steal on the other end, which led to a Lisa Zderadicka three from the corner in transition, stretching the lead to 41-30, their largest to that point.
“That was our best stretch of the game by far,” Eagles coach Karl Smesko said. “We got out running, we hit Lisa in the corner for a three, [Erica Nelson] found cutters for us during that stretch. We had better movement with the ball and people, we got better shots in transition and got people in the right sports. That was definitely the turning point in the game.”
The Eagles didn’t let up in the fourth, continuing to stretch the lead, with a Rosemarie Julien three-point play in transition turning what was once a 32-30 game into a 20-point FGCU lead at 56-36 with 8:12 left to play.
The Ospreys(10-14, 3-6) continued to be a tough, frustrating matchup for the Eagles, sporting a three senior front line all at least 5-foot-11, anchored by 6-foot-1 Keonna Farmer. Julien compared North Florida’s forwards to Jacksonville, the Eagles toughest conference challenge in recent years.
“They’re about the same to me,” Julien said.
Farmer had 18 points for North Florida, and consistently appeared to be able to get open looks from about 10 feet out, doing the bulk on her damage on set-shots from the elbow and midrange jumpers on the baseline.
“I mean, she’s really good,” Smesko said. “She’s got to be one of the leading candidates for player of the year in our league. She’s a tough matchup for everyone.”
The night couldn’t have started any worse for FGCU, as they missed their first 10 shots to open the game. In fact it took nearly seven minutes before China Dow hit a three from the left wing to finally get the Eagles on the board.
Luckily for the Eagles, North Florida wasn’t able to make much hay out of being spotted seven free minutes, managing just a 6-0 lead to open the game.
“Our defense made up for it,” Dow said.
FGCU finished the night shooting 48 percent from the floor on 27-of-56 shooting.
The Eagles were without leading rebounder Tytionia Adderly for two games, including the UNF loss due to recovery from a concussion. But the sophomore returned to the starting lineup Thursday, scoring four points and 10 rebounds in 28 minutes.
FGCU and UNF were the only ASUN teams to play on Tuesday. As it stands, at 8-1 the Eagles hold a 1.5 game lead on Jacksonville(16-7, 6-2) who play third-place Stetson(14-10, 5-3) on Wednesday.
The Eagles end the regular season against the Hatters in DeLand, probably their hardest remaining test, on Feb. 24. By virtue of sweeping Jacksonville in the regular season, FGCU holds the tiebreaker over the Dolphins.
FGCU 22-4, 8-1
Jacksonville 16-7, 6-2
Stetson 14-10, 5-3
Lipscomb, 9-14, 5-3
USC-Upstate 8-14, 3-5
North Florida 10-14, 3-6
Kennesaw State 6-13, 2-6
NJIT 3-20, 1-7
at USC-Upstate, Saturday
at NJIT, Monday
Lipscomb, Feb. 17
Kennesaw State, Feb. 19
at Stetson, Feb. 24
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