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The first 33:41 played by the Harvard women’s basketball team in 2015 were tight, as the Crimson battled Florida Gulf Coast Friday night at Lavietes Pavilion. The closing 6:19 of the game proved to be the downfall of the Harvard defense, as the Eagles went on a 19-0 run en route to their 68-58 victory.
FGCU (13-2), a team that was averaging 78.2 points per game entering the nonconference contest, was held in check for most of the game by the physical defense of the Crimson (6-6). The explosive 19-0 run not only saw the Eagles erase a six-point deficit but put the game permanently out of reach for Harvard.
“They definitely had the momentum and were feeding off of each other’s threes,” co-captain Erin McDonnell said. “As they got a more comfortable lead, they were becoming more relaxed and were able to drive harder, draw fouls, and continue making their three-point shots. We felt more pressure to score early, which led to earlier shots in the offense, and then we wouldn’t be in good rebounding position.”
While the FGCU offense, ranked 22nd in the nation in points per game entering the contest, came to life in the second half. For the Crimson, two scoreless droughts lasting a combined 12 minutes proved costly. Harvard’s offensive woes began from the opening tip-off as the team did not tally its first point until the 14:18 mark in the first half.
The lack of production on offense did not seem to bother the Crimson on the defensive end, as the team conceded just four points to the Eagles in that stretch. FGCU struggled to penetrate Harvard’s defense and was undersized inside against senior forward Temi Fagbenle and McDonnell. The struggles inside for the Eagles continued for most of the game, as Harvard finished the contest with a 43-30 edge on the glass.
The second scoring drought, which lasted 6:18, was too much for the Crimson to overcome. Following a timeout by FGCU coach Karl Smesko with his team down six and 6:29 left to play, junior guard Whitney Knight hit a three-pointer to start the offensive explosion and cut the Harvard lead to three.
Following Knight’s trey, the Crimson would miss its next nine shots and turn the ball over four times, while the Eagles hit two more threes and converted their next six free throws. The combined 12 minutes without a field goal came on the heels of a stretch without a field goal that lasted over ten minutes for Harvard in its 83-64 loss to Louisiana Tech on Monday.
“I think a lot of it has to do with turnovers on offense,” co-captain Kaitlyn Dinkins said. “If we’re turning the ball over, we’re not getting good shots. I think it has to do with execution and being mentally intense.”
Knight, junior guard Kaneisha Atwater, and senior forward Anthi Chatzigiakoumi combined for 52 points for the visitors, who extended their win streak to eight. Fagbenle led the way for Harvard with 19 points and seven rebounds, both game highs.
FGCU, which has qualified for the NCAA Tournament the last two seasons and had outscored opponents by almost 18 points per game coming into Friday, turned the ball over only eight times, while the Crimson had 22 infractions. The game was the Harvard’s third in five days.
“We definitely could have done a better job of taking care of the ball on offense,” McDonnell said. “We had moments of greatness on offense and got the ball into our post for a lot of mismatches really well. But then again, we were so excited about our mismatches that sometimes we tried to force the ball inside.”
Despite the loss, the Crimson was able to hold one of the nation’s most efficient offenses well below its season averages in points and field goal percentage.
“I thought that was some of the best defense we’ve played all season; we just couldn’t do it for 40 minutes,” Dinkins said. “Overall, the most important thing in that game was defense and we did it for the majority of the game, but those times we didn’t, I think that’s really what cost us.”
—Staff writer Stephen J. Gleason can be reached at email@example.com.
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