Wednesday, March 6, 2013

FGCU Veterans Help Keep the Eagles' Streak Alive

FGCU senior Joyce Iamstrong


The streak was in real danger Wednesday at Mercer’s Hawkins Arena in the first round of the General Shale Atlantic Sun Basketball Championship.
That’s when the veteran leaders of the Florida Gulf Coast women’s basketball team took over.

The Eagles (26-5) led by just three in the second half, but dominated the final 10 minutes of the game to pull away for a 73-47 victory and advance to the championship semifinals. They will play either USC Upstate or North Florida on Friday.

Wednesday’s win was Florida Gulf Coast’s 40th straight against A-Sun competition, 36 in the regular season and four in conference championship games (the Eagles captured last year’s conference tournament title).
“We knew what we had to do offensively and defensively,” A-Sun Player of the Year Sarah Hansen said about her team’s play down the stretch. “We weren’t executing in the beginning. The experience helped us to stay composed when we weren’t playing our best. We just had to get back to how we play. When we started to break away it was because we started making more plays defensively; we started reacting when we needed to, and that’s when we really started to get going.”

Head Coach Karl Smesko said he wasn’t nervous when the game tightened in the second half, but the Owls (7-24) certainly made things interesting. Florida Gulf Coast won the two regular-season meetings by a combined 65 points, but the Owls kept things close for 30 minutes as they looked for the upset. KSU trailed by three, 39-36, with just 13:01 remaining.

“I wouldn’t say nervous, but I wasn’t comfortable,” Smesko said. “I was wondering when we were going to make a play." 

His veteran leaders made plenty of plays to help the Eagles pull away.
Senior Joyce Iamstrong led the Eagles, finishing with 23 points. It was also Iamstrong who made the key play in the game to break it open. With her team leading by just five, Iamstrong hit a 3-pointer, was fouled and made the foul shot for a 47-38 lead with 9:48 remaining. That gave the Eagles a big boost of momentum and sparked them to a big finish.

Iamstrong hit 8-of-15 shots from the floor, including 4-of-7 from 3-point range, and she added six rebounds. Hansen added 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting, and the Eagles closed the game with a 34-11 run.

“Joyce is a really good player, that’s the first thing,” Smesko said. “Nobody on our team is surprised by her performance. She’s been a great player for us all season. She’s not afraid of big moments; in fact she enjoys them probably as much as anybody. 

I just like that she’s having fun out there. She has a lot of energy, and she’s being an emotional leader out there. We always get (Brittany Kennedy) being an emotional leader, and to have Joyce be that actively involved and getting us up was just a big bonus for us. She played outstanding.”

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