ASUN champions! No. 20 Women’s Hoops captures ninth ASUN Championship title
FORT MYERS, FL. – Fueled by a terrific second-half performance, the No. 20 FGCU women’s basketball team defeated Jacksonville State 69-54 Saturday night at the Alico Arena to secure their ninth ASUN championship title and automatic league participation in the NCAA win tournament.
The Eagles (29-2) will learn their NCAA tournament opponent and goal Sunday night at 8 p.m. when the NCAA Selection Show airs on ESPN. Fans are invited to join the women’s program at Alico Arena for a free watch party, with doors opening at 7:00 p.m.
Jacksonville State (24-7) entered the championship game as the No. 1 in the West Division after scoring a dramatic win over Liberty in the buzzer. It was the Gamecocks’ first game for the ASUN Championship title since 1999 during their first stint in the league.
For the green-blues, Saturday the 11thth straight appearance in the title game. FGCU is now 30-2 all-time in the ASUN tournament and has won six straight titles. Overall, the win marked the seventh straight win for the Eagles this season and the 22ndnd of the last 23 games participating in the NCAA tournament.
“It was another tough game tonight, we didn’t shoot the ball that well in the first half,” said the head coach Karl Smesko. “We played better defensively in the second half and Bell had a great end to the third quarter. Overall, it was a great effort from our team and we are happy to win the conference tournament in a year when ASUN is really strong. We’re excited to go to the NCAA tournament and can’t wait to see who we’ll play against.”
All America Candidate Kierstan Bell was named ASUN Tournament MVP and became a member of the All-Tournament Team of Kendall Spray and Tishara Morehouse.
In the championship game, Bell finished the night with 26 points and six rebounds. With the Eagles trailing 32-30 at the break, Bell was a driving force in the second half as she scored 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting after the break, including four three-pointers. The performance was her fourth 20-point game in the last five games since returning from knee surgery.
Along with Bell, Morehouse finished the night with 17 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Emma list almost had a double-double with eight points and nine rebounds. Spray hit two triples in the game to remain fourth all-time in NCAA history as she made three career pointers with 460.
JSU was led with 13 points by both Kennedy Gavin (seven rebounds) and Kiana Johnson. Imari Martin rounded out the top performers with 10 points.
In the third quarter, FGCU’s Eagles began to heat up from across the arc when Spray hit a three early on, followed by three more from Bell and one from Morehouse later in the stanza. Bell hit back-to-back triples with just over a minute left, pushing the lead to 51-43 before JSU brought home a three on the buzzer to go fourth behind at five.
In the first three minutes of the fourth, Kerstin Phillips and Bell had two more three hands to go up 12. After a five-point run by the Gamecocks pulled JSU back to single digits, a three-point play by List was followed by a steal on Bell’s subsequent inbounds with the ball, eventually finding spray for the game’s deciding play when their three-pointer scored the 65-52 from the wing with just three minutes to go.
Overall, FGCU finished the game with 28 of 62 shots from the floor, including 10 of 31 from deep. JSU hit 20 of 53 for the game and was just 3 of 18 behind the arc. The Eagles weakened defensively in the second half and finished the game with 14 points on 12 JSU turnovers.
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FGCU Head Coach Karl Smesko holds a career overall record of 609-127 (.826), which is the third-highest win ratio among active Division I coaches, behind only UConn’s Geno Auriemma and LSU’s Kim Mulkey. He has also led the Eagles to a 232-18 (.930) mark in ASUN regular season play and a 30-2 (.933) record in ASUN tournament play. In the past 10 seasons, he has led FGCU to a 153-5 (.968) record in conference play with six unbeaten seasons. The 12-time ASUN Coach of the Year has led the program to 12 consecutive 25-win seasons and 18 consecutive 20-win campaigns, including more than 30 wins in four of the past seven years. Additionally, the Eagles are 548-100 (.845) all-time since Smesko started the program in the 2002-03 season, and the Green and Blue’s .845 all-time win ratio is the best in NCAA Division I women’s basketball history.
FGCU Athletics sponsors November and April events to benefit the FGCU Campus Food Pantry (www.fgcu.edu/foodpantry) and the Harry Chapin Food Bank (www.harrychapinfoodbank.org), the charities of choice of FGCU Athletics. For more information, including how to contribute, visit www.fgcu.edu/adminservices/foodpantry and use the hashtag #FeedFGCU to raise awareness.
FGCU teams have collectively won an incredible 90 conference regular season and tournament titles in just 14+ seasons at the Division I level. Additionally, in just 10 seasons of DI postseason eligibility, the Eagles have had a total of 44 teams or individuals compete in NCAA championships. Eight FGCU programs have earned a national top-25 ranking in their respective sports — including women’s basketball (No. 20, 2021-22), beach volleyball (No. 20, 2022), and both men’s soccer (2018, 2019) and women’s soccer ( 2018) as three of the youngest. In 2016-17, the Greens and Blues finished in the division’s best sixth place finish in the DI-AAA Learfield Directors’ Cup and made the top-100 nationally, ahead of several Power-5 and FBS institutions. In 2018-19, the Eagles had the top seven teams from ASUN and Florida to earn the NCAA’s Public Recognition Award for their rate of academic progress in their sport. FGCU also achieved a combined record 3.50 GPA in the classroom for the Fall 2020 semester and has surpassed the university’s general student population for 25 consecutive semesters. In each of the last five semesters (Fall 2019 – Fall 2021) another milestone was achieved as all 15 programs each achieved a team GPA of 3.0 or higher. The Eagles also contributed an all-time high of 7,200 volunteer hours in 2017 and were recognized as one of two runners-up for the inaugural NACDA Community Service Award presented by the Fiesta Bowl.