Women's Basketball Falls In Regional Semifinals
ARKADELPHIA, Ark. – Delta State University advanced to the NCAA South Region Women’s Basketball Championship with a 57-48 win over Florida Gulf Coast University at the Duke Wells Center on Saturday.
Delta State (30-2), the top seed in the region and the No.7 ranked team in the nation, will meet second-seeded Henderson State in the regional championship for a trip to the Elite Eight. Fifth-seeded FGCU, making its first tournament appearance in just its second season of NCAA post-season eligibility, finishes the season 29-2. The Eagles were ranked No. 11 in the nation entering the tournament.
A strong defensive effort allowed the Lady Statesmen (30-2) to make a return visit to the regional finals. Delta State held FGCU to just 26% shooting from the floor. The Eagles (29-2) only hit 14-of-50 from the field, but connected on 8-of-25 from three-point territory to stay in the game. The Eagles held the Lady Statesmen to just 16-of-44 shots from the field (36%) but Delta State hit 22-of-28 from the free throw line. Conversely, FGCU managed just 12-of-21 from the charity stripe. Delta State also had a 38-33 advantage on the boards.
With the two teams ranked among the top defensive teams in the country, the first half featured excellent defense from both teams. Delta State led at the break 25-23. But the Lady Statesmen scored the first 12 points of the second half for a 37-23 lead with 12:38 to play. FGCU, which didn’t score for the first 7:51 of the second half, could get no closer than nine points the rest of the way.
“Delta State was so physical and were very good defensively,” said Eagles head coach Karl Smesko. “When you get behind by 10 points or so to a team like that it’s like being behind by 20. You can’t get behind that much to a team that plays defense like that.”
Senior guard Ebonie Halliburton (East St. Louis, Ill.) led all scorers with a game-high 14 points while also adding eight rebounds. Senior guard Candy Myers (Leipsic, Ohio) closed her career with nine points. Junior forward Alex Nelson (Edinburgh, Scotland) chipped in with eight points and junior forward Katie Schrader (Fort Collins, Colo.) added five points and nine rebounds.
It was the final game for three FGCU seniors: Halliburton, Myers and Alex Kwiecinska (Mississauga, Ontario).
Jennifer Rushing led the Lady Statesmen with 12 points, while Casey Broussard and Courtney Wilson dropped in nine points and seven rebounds each. Amber Gean chipped in nine points and Lawanda Stewart added three points and 10 rebounds.
“Obviously we are disappointed but I am very proud of this team,” said Smesko. “Our goal was to get to regionals and we thought we had the team to win the region. Our seniors put so much effort into getting here. But it was a great season.”