The FGCU women’s basketball team forced 24 turnovers, and scored 34 points, cruising to a probably more difficult than it should’ve been 90-66 win over NJIT at Alico Arena on Saturday.
“Give NJIT credit, they kept the game competitive for a long time,” FGCU coach Karl Smesko said. “I was a little disappointed, I don’t think we had the same defensive intensity that we had against Stetson. That’s something we talked about this week, was making sure we had a continuation of what we did well.”
On paper, outside of the games against the non-Division I schools, this may have been the most lopsided matchup of the season for the Eagles. FGCU entered the game as the top-ranked mid-major team in both the ESPN and College Insider polls, received votes in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll, and had an RPI of 21. NJIT had an RPI of 347(out of 349) and were getting outscored by an average of 16.6 points per game, the 16th worst margin in the country.
In the first half, NJIT shot a surprising 50 percent from the floor, including six of their last seven shots to end the half. But the Eagles(16-3, 2-0 ASUN) had taken nearly twice as many shots during the same span – 39 to 22 – thanks to 12 NJIT turnovers, and a 7-to-0 advantage on the offensive glass. FGCU led 44-30 at the half.
“Fortunately we were able to have more possessions. We turned the ball over less, we got more offensive rebounds and that allowed us to separate a little bit,” Smesko said.
The Eagles turned it on and pulled away in the second half though, hitting 10-of-12 to open the third, including five threes. Jessica Cattani had three three-pointers during that span, part of a 16 point, 5-of-7 shooting night, all of them threes. A layup down low from China Dow saw the lead swell to 71-40, as Smesko began to work the reserves in to the game.
“Coach said he wanted us to bring the things we did well against Stetson into this game and every game in conference, and I feel that we struggled in that aspect,” Cattani said. “If we relax like this and don’t have good defensive intensity in the games coming up it’s going to put us into a tough situation.”
Five Eagles scored in double figures, Cattani and four other players(Dow, Erica Nelson, Nasrin Ulel, and Rosemarie Julien) with 13 each, but that wasn’t what Smesko was concerned with after the game. Instead it was that NJIT(2-15, 0-2), 328th in the nation in field goal percentage coming in shooting just 34.9 percent from the field on the season, finished the game shooting 50 percent, but had several stretches where it just looked too easy for the Highlanders.
“When we made a mistake, they scored,” Smesko said. “They shot a good percentage against us, they got the shots they wanted to take, their execution offensively was better than our defensive execution.”
The Eagles take on USC-Upstate on Monday. The Spartans beat NJIT by 38 to open conference play, and lost a late lead in DeLand on Saturday, leading by as many as 14 before falling to Stetson, 62-61.
“I’m hoping for a lot better defensive effort on Monday, because we play a good offensive team,” Smesko said. “Hopefully we’ll learn from this, and we’ll come back from this and be a little bit better on the defensive end.”
NUMBERS TO KNOW
24 – NJIT’s 24 turnovers on Saturday was the most by a Division I team against FGCU this season.
.500 – Only Ohio State(58 percent) and South Dakota State(54.7 percent) shot better than NJIT did against the Eagles this season.
13 – With 13 threes on Saturday, FGCU has hit at least 10 threes in 14 games this season. Only DePaul, who the Eagles beat in Las Vegas earlier this season, has attempted or made more threes on the season.
at Kennesaw State, Jan. 20
at Lipscomb, Jan. 22
Jacksonville, Jan. 27
at North Florida, Feb. 1
© 2018 Naples Herald. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.