FGCU tops WSU 74-63, reaches 2nd round of March Madness
VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) — Maddie Antenucci shot pogo-sticked twice off the rim and the play seemed to go in slow motion for Florida Gulf Coast. Once the ball knocked twice off the top of the backboard - and in! — it was almost time to crank some celebratory Iron Maiden in the locker room.
“It was like, ahhh,” FGCU guard Sha Carter said of the shot. “When it hit, you could just feel the electricity in the arena.”
Antenucci’s 3-pointer bounced four times before going through the net as part of her game-changing spree from beyond the arc that sent 12th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast into the second round of the NCAA Tournament with a 74-63 win Saturday over No. 5-seed Washington State.
Carter scored 24 points and Tishara Moorehouse had 16 for the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament champion Golden Eagles (33-3).
“We have a team that can be explosive,” coach Karl Smesko said.
FGCU will try and reach the Sweet 16 with an upset against fourth-seeded Villanova on Monday at the Wildcats’ on-campus arena, the Pavilion. The Wildcats beat Cleveland State 76-59 in the late game.
The Eagles sent the Shania Twain karaoke club out of Washington State (23-11) home early after a surprising run to win the Pac-12 Tournament. Tara Wallack led the Cougars with 16 points
Antenucci, who scored 11 points, turned into a sudden-scorer and turned a tight game into FGCU’s game to lose. She averaged only 4.1 points this season, but hit FGCU’s second 3 of the game in the third quarter for a 43-38 lead. Her second straight 3 only 35 seconds later made it 46-40 and started to put some separation in the game.
Her third straight 3 was one for the highlight reel. Her shot bounced twice straight up off the back rim, tapped twice off the front corner of the backboard and plopped through the net. The three 3s in a 1 minute, 12-second span were Antenucci’s first three shots and first points of the game.
“I feel like that pretty much summed it up for us in the third quarter,” Carter said, laughing.
The FGCU fans that filled a couple of sections inside the Pavilion erupted and Washington State called timeout. The Cougars never recovered. FGCU outscored Wazzu 30-16 in the third quarter.
Antenucci’s teammates took it from there. Moorehouse was fouled on a driving layup -- Cougars guard Astera Tuhina slammed the ball in frustration -- and she hit the free throw for a 58-47 lead. They took a 61-48 lead into the fourth quarter.
“It just felt like we didn’t get a handle on how to guard them,” coach Kamie Ethridge said.
The Eagles closed as 1½-point favorites, per FanDuel Sportsbook, so this would be no underdog upset, no matter the seeding.
While the Cougars made a habit of singing along in victory to Twain’s signature tune, the Eagles did their coach a solid and blasted one of his favorites, Iron Maiden’s “The Trooper” in the locker room.
Florida Gulf Coast sent a basketball program back to the area 10 years after the men’s famed “Dunk City” team won two games as a 12 seed in Philadelphia and advanced to the Sweet 16.
Smesko said he didn’t believe that magic could be recreated.
Unless, he joked, if the Eagles won.
Maybe Antenucci’s funky 3 can earn them some “Kerplunk City” fame.
With 4:14 left in the game, and the Cougars trailing 70-56, the school band belted out Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like A Woman!” to try and rally the team. The 1997 smash had become an anthem for the program and even caught the attention of Twain. The Cougars also had Twain’s “Let’s Go Girls” printed on the back of the warmup shirts.
They’re just not going to the second round.
“I hope it’s a gut-punch for the ones that are coming back,” Ethridge said.
The Washington State band played to the local crowd -- that filled in with Villanova fans late in the second half -- with masks in honor of Flyers mascot Gritty.
Washington State’s starters were from Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Estonia and Rwanda.
Florida Gulf Coast: The Eagles came in shooting a modest 38% from 3-point range this season. Antenucci made 27 3s this season and shot 38% from beyond the arc. She did shoot 41% on 3s in conference play.
Washington State: The Cougars played in their third straight NCAA Tournament but fell to 0-4 in the tourney. The No. 5 seed was the highest Washington State had ever earned in March Madness.
“We’re very, very hungry to come back and get past that first round,” guard Charlisse Leger-Walker said. “That’s definitely personal for me in something I want to help this team do.”
The Eagles will face a rowdy home court for the Wildcats on Monday night.
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