Atwater leads FGCU WBB to 61-47 victory over Kennesaw State
FORT MYERS, Fla. (FGCU Athletics) – With 32 of the team’s 61 points, junior Kaneisha Atwater led the FGCU women’s basketball team to its 13th-straight win Saturday evening at Alico Arena as the Eagles defeated Kennesaw State 61-47. With the win, the Eagles move to 18-2 on the season with a perfect 5-0 mark in Atlantic Sun action, while the Owls drop to 13-7 with a 2-3 conference record.
The Eagles produced seven 3-pointers in the first half, while converting 54 percent of shots to take control of the game early on. With Atwater’s strong performance and consistent offensive intensity, the Eagles took the lead in the early minutes and never let go. FGCU went ahead by 23 in the second half and ultimately earned a 14-point victory for its 59th-straight conference win at home.
Atwater (Fort Pierce, Fla./Fort Pierce Westwood High School/VCU) led all players with 32 points and was just one point shy of tying her career-high and the FGCU Division I scoring record. Atwater is the only A-Sun player to have scored 30 points or more this season and has done it on two occasions. In 37 minutes on the floor, Atwater went 13-for-19 from the field with four made shots from 3-point range and two makes from the free-throw line.
Senior Jenna Cobb (New Holland, Ohio/Miami Trace High School/Butler) added to the Eagles’ point total with 10 on the night, while Whitney Knight (Winston-Salem, N.C./R.J. Reynolds High School) contributed six points and led the team with nine rebounds and five blocks.
As a unit, the Eagles shot 47.1 percent on the night and held the Owls to 35.3 percent. The Owls outrebounded the Green and Blue 33-21 and forced the team to turn the ball over 17 times, but FGCU’s 10 makes from the perimeter helped the team maintain control of the game and earn the win. The team’s win streak now stands as the seventh-best run in the nation.
“The first thing I take away from this game is how well Kaneisha played,” said head coach Karl Smesko. “She was aggressive attacking the basket, they started the game trying to take away her drive and she was knocking down threes early. She was able to eliminate space and still get around people late in the game. Kaneisha’s activity was huge today and we’re really proud of the way she played today. I give Kennesaw credit. They’re a much improved team. They did a good job defending us.”
With points from Atwater and Taylor Gradinjan (Cudahy, Wisc./Cudahy High School), the Eagles took a 7-1 lead over Kennesaw State right out of the gates but saw as the Owls used a six-point run to tie the bout at 7-7 four minutes in. A traditional 3-point play from DyTiesha Dunson (Albany, Ga./Westover High School) broke the tie and put the Eagles up 12-9 before a long-range shot from the hands of Knight helped FGCU claim control.
Atwater’s hot hand became evident midway through the first half when the junior single-handedly outscored the Owls 12-4 over a span of four minutes and pushed FGCU ahead by double figures. While facing a 27-18 disadvantage near the eight-minute mark, KSU produced back-to-back 3-pointers to bring the deficit to just six points but a perimeter shot from Cobb sparked another run for the Eagles.
The Green and Blue saw threes from Cobb, Jaime Gluesing (Solon, Ohio/Solon High School) and Katie Meador (Salem, Ill./Salem Community High School) to produce a 9-2 run that moved the score to 36-22 in favor of the home team.
After leading 38-24 at the break, the Eagles used eight-straight points from Cobb and Atwater to increase the advantage to a game-high 23 points with 13 minutes still to play. Kennesaw did not back down and cut the Eagle lead to 14 points with a seven-point run of its own at the midpoint of the second half.
The teams traded buckets over the next five minutes before a clutch shot from beyond-the-arc by Knight increased the lead to 58-41 and gave the Eagles the final swing of momentum. Kennesaw added six points late in the game but was unable to cut the deficit to fewer than 13 points and ultimately gave the Eagles a 61-47 victory in front of the home crowd.
As the winners in 17 of the their last 18 games, the team will conclude the first half of Atlantic Sun action next week with road tilts at Lipscomb and Northern Kentucky. FGCU will take on the Bisons in Nashville on Thursday, Jan. 29 and will follow with a 7 p.m. game Saturday, Jan. 31 in Highland Heights, Ky.