Kennesaw, GA -- In the conference opener, Brittany Kennedy’s all around performance helped lead Florida Gulf Coast Eagles over the Kennesaw State Lady Owls 62-35.
Kennedy -- featured on the "Buzz List" for the Nancy Lieberman Award -- had 14 points, 6 rebounds and 6 steals; she was also the catalyst for the team’s defensive pressure that suffocated the Owls in the second half.
"In the first half we did some things to compete," said Kennesaw State coach Nitra Perry. "We didn’t play our best basketball, but we were still in the game. In the second half when you don’t play fundamental basketball, then you see a game like that. I (was) very disappointed in our second half effort."
Early on, Kennesaw State was able to hang with the defending Atlantic Sun champions as they started the game switching defenses -- going from a 1-3-1 zone to a man to man. It seemed to work as it stymied the rhythmic offense of Florida Gulf Coast. The Eagles, who are well versed in getting 3-point shots, had to make adjustments which led to more back door cuts for lay-ups.
And even when Florida Gulf Coast started to get a slight lead, Kennesaw State’s Chelsea Mason stepped up for the Owls. By the 10:44 mark, Mason had seven of Kennesaw State’s first nine points to cut the Eagles’ lead to 10-9.
Mason’s athleticism and versatility continued to bother Florida Gulf Coast as she single-handedly kept her team in the game. She contributed in many different facets; the 5-foot-7 freshman was very active. By halftime, she had half her team’s points with nine and also had six rebounds.
In the second half, FGCU came out with a defensive intensity that was unmatched by Kennesaw State. A halftime deficit that was only just seven ballooned to 15 within a matter of minutes and it was predicated by Kennedy.
Kennedy used her exceptional speed and defensive instincts to cause a lot of havoc for the Owls. Whether she was getting steals, deflections or getting into the lane for lay-ups, she was almost a one-woman wrecking crew. After a media timeout with 15:22 left, Kennedy immediately went on a personal 4-0 run on the next two possessions. Once this happened, one could see the body language of Kennesaw State change for the worse.
Clearly the Owls were frustrated by the loss as they were in the game in the first half.
"I feel like a lot of the players, especially (myself), I thought we were just beat," said a dejected Mason. "We were defeated when we got on the court after halftime. And we just quit and pretty much lost the game in the second half. I feel really disappointed that we lost this bad on our home court.
"We will not lose like this ever again on our home court. We’re going to take this game as a lesson for us just to never ever quit, never feel this way again."
Kennedy's offensive contributions coupled with her exceptional on-ball pressure frustrated Kennesaw State’s star guard, Ashley Holliday -- it was two of the biggest factors in the game; Holliday ended the game with a career-high in 11 turnovers.
At the end of the game, Perry huddled her players on the court and emphatically spoke with them about the importance of being fearless. The Owls' first-year head coach used this game to teach her kids the importance of not being intimidated.
"I talked to them about being fearless," said Perry. "I’m a new coach here -- that (second half performance) was what I watched on film last year. And that was not our expectation; we talked about starting a tradition and leaving a legacy. That wouldn’t be how ideally you would start one -- just want to be fearless of everyone.
"It doesn’t matter if it was UConn lined up on the other side, just knowing that we could compete with everybody, and what our vision is for this program -- and what their vision is what I talked about at the end."
Kennesaw State was held to only 15 field goal attempts in the second half. The Owls were led by Chelsea Mason’s double-double, 13 points and 11 rebounds. Sarah Hansen contributed 13 points for Florida Gulf Coast.