Taylor Gradinjan hit a big time shot in the final seconds.
Keyona Hayes did too.
Hayes hit a layup with 1.5 seconds left for No. 4 seed Miami, spoiling a comeback attempt by No. 13 seed FGCU and avoiding a massive upset on their home floor in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday at the Watsco Center in Coral Gables, 62-60.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the way our kids fought back,” FGCU coach Karl Smesko said. “We started off shooting really poorly, but we hung around and then when we started playing like we’re capable of it was a game down to literally the last second.”
“I’m really disappointed we don’t get another chance to play again, but this is the heartbreak in March. Hopefully, everybody can at least see how competitive our team is how hard they’re willing to work and how much fight they have in them.”
Trailing 60-57 with 16.1 seconds to go after a pair of free throws by Keyanna Harris, Gradinjan drilled a corner three to tie the game at 60 for FGCU with 8.6 seconds remaining.
But what happened in the final eight seconds ultimately marred the discussion of the game.
Hayes back down Gradinjan in the lane, who absorbed heavy contact as Hayes appeared to lower her shoulder and elbow Gradinjan. Smesko, and the sizable FGCU contingent of fans who made the drive across Alligator Alley, wanted a charge which did not come.
“That what the refs thought it was, we’ve got to deal with it,” Gradinjan said. “It sucks, but you’ve got to deal with it.”
Then, on the final inbound with 1.5 seconds to go, Jordin Alexander appeared to get hip-checked by Harris as she got position cutting into the lane.
The only whistle that came was the final one.
Smesko, who was demonstrative after not getting a whistle, especially on the Hayes bucket, was diplomatic when asked after the game if he thought it was a charge.
“Obviously I have my perspective, but I’m not necessarily going to be objective. Usually I watch the game on the way home, but I might wait a couple days,” Smesko said. “I don’t think you can ever blame the outcome of a game on one call or two calls, because there’s a thousand plays within a game.”
“It was a well officiated game, with the exception of a controversial ending.”
Miami coach Katie Meier was having none of that talk.
“Throughout the game, whatever segment you want to pick. You can always do that,” Meier said when asked if she felt they were the beneficiaries of any calls in the closing seconds.
“They’re very good. They had a very good season and they deserved every win they got.”
The Eagles trailed by as many as 13 in the first half, at one point going on a stretch of 2-for-17 from the field, while Miami went on a 14-2 run to take a 28-15 lead.
But a seven-point spurt to end the half, punctuated by a three from Haley Laughter closed the gap to six, 28-22 for the Eagles, who went just 2-for-18 from three in the first half, and 10-of-34 from the field.
“We came in at halftime and regrouped,” Laughter said. “We said that we were right in this game and our shots are going to fall. We kept telling each other if we got one more stop it will start going our way.”
After a 37-28 lead from Miami early in the second half, the Eagles went on another run, going 12-5 to end the period to close it to 43-39 after the third, including five points in one possession. Jessica Cattani hit a three, while China Dow was fouled with the shot in the air. On the Eagles inbound, Dow converted on the layup to cut the lead to four.
In the fourth, Rose Julien brought the Eagles all the way back with a three to tie the game at 51 with 4:22 to go, for the last of her 10 points. A putback by Emese Hof gave Miami the lead back, but Dow drove right at the 6-foot-3 Dutch forward to tie it again at 53. Dow scored on nearly the exact same play with 1:13 to go to give FGCU the lead at 56-55. Dow also scored 10 for the Eagles.
“We thought China had the best matchup at the end of the game,” Smesko said. “Give her a lot of credit, early in the game she maybe forced some shots, late in the game she got to the rim absorbed some contact. To finish over a kid that size and using her body and angle to shoot, it was really impressive.”
Hayes had 16 points and 10 rebounds for the Hurricanes, who advanced to play No. 12 seed Quinnipiac on Monday. The Bobcats won their first NCAA Tournament victory with a 68-65 upset win over No. 5 seed Marquette.
NCAA TOURNAMENT HISTORY
The Eagles have a history of heartbreak in the NCAA Tournament. Notwithstanding 2015, where they finally broke through and won with a 75-67 win over Oklahoma State, before being bounced in the second round by No. 2 seed Florida State, FGCU’s other trips have come to the wire.
In 2012, their first appearance in their first season of eligibility, the Eagles led by 10 in the second half, before falling in overtime to St. Bonaventure, 80-73. Then in 2014, the Eagles again saw a double-digit lead evaporate before again falling in overtime, this time to Oklahoma State, 61-60.
2012: (5) St. Bonaventure 80, (12) FGCU 73(OT)
2014: (5) Oklahoma St. 61, (12) FGCU 60(OT)
2015: (7) FGCU 75, (10) Oklahoma St. 67; (2) Florida State 65, (7) FGCU 47
2017: (4) Miami 62, (13) FGCU 60
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