After going 14-0 in regular season conference play, the Eagles completed their A-Sun sweep on Sunday afternoon with a victory over Northern Kentucky in the tournament championship. FGCU raced out to an incredible 13-0 lead against the Norse and never looked back.The Eagles won by a final of 60-43 to take home their third Atlantic Sun title in four years.
"We're just really excited to win the conference regular season, and back it up by winning the tournament championship," a noticeably giddy Karl Smesko said. "We're excited about the opportunity of going to the NCAA Tournament and representing the Atlantic Sun."
FGCU came out strong right away, not allowing NKU to score until six minutes into the game. As usual, their defense was outstanding, holding the Norse to 17 first half points on 27.3-percent shooting. NKU was challenged in getting to the hoop, and only me one two-point field goal in the half. On the offensive side, the Eagles only hit three three-pointers, but scored 16-points in the paint to make up for it. At the end of the first half, the game was all but over with FGCU holding a 32-17 lead.
The Norse came out and scored the first five points of the second half, but that was the only scare of the half. When the game started to seem within reach for NKU, Whitney Knight put the Eagles on her back. Knight went off in the second half, taking over for 17 points, 5 rebounds and 2 steals. The A-Sun Player of the Year finished with a team high 21 points.
"This was one of our goals in the beginning of the season to win the conference tournament. We were very excited to have this opportunity again, and we weren't taking it for granted," Knight said.
While they never really dominated the Norse, the Eagles never gave NKU a chance. It was a consistent 15-20 point lead the entire second half, with 12 being the closest NKU would get. Despite only knocking down five three-pointers in the game, the Eagles outscored NKU 34-2 in the paint. The Norse played them tough in the second half, but in the end they were no match for the powerhouse Smesko has built in Fort Myers.
After recording the first double-double of her career in the 2014 A-Sun final, Kaneisha Atwater recorded her second on Sunday with 13 points and 13 rebounds.
"Last game I didn't do so well rebounding, and we kind of got crushed on the boards," Atwater said. "This game I was determined to play my part and do my role, and hit the boards hard."
The trio of Atwater, Knight, and Jenna Cobb were named to the Atlantic Sun conference tournament team, with Knight being named the tournament MVP.
The ladies of Raining Threes will find out their seed in the NCAA Tournament Monday Night. Despite a 30-2 record, it's unlikely that they get anything higher than a 7-seed. Ranked 20 overall in the AP poll and 15 in RPI, the Eagles will go into March Madness as one of the most undervalued teams in the country. Having failed to get out of the first round in their previous two trips to the dance, the Eagles are looking to solidify themselves as a premier up-and-coming program with a deep tournament run.
"We have no control over it," Smesko said about the seeding. "Wherever they put us we're going to get prepared and we're going to give our best effort to win in the NCAA Tournament. We've accomplished really just about every goal we've set for ourselves this season, with the remaining one is we want to advance in the NCAA tournament."