Kennesaw, GA -- The Kennesaw State Owls came into Wednesday’s night contest determined to make amends for their performance against the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles.
But they came up short as Victoria McGowan’s 33-point (career-high) effort helped the Stetson Hatters hold off a determined Owls squad, 57-52.
“Nitra (Perry) is doing a great job with this group, they are much improved,” said Stetson coach Lynn Bria “I told our players, ‘I don’t think anybody plays harder than Kennesaw State.’ And it’s a credit to her and her staff, they’ve done a great job here and they’re just going to get better and better.
“But I was pleased, I thought we were down and they were having their way with stuff. I thought our players hung in there and it was ugly but we’re going to take it.”
After Kennesaw State’s disappointing effort against FGCU, the Owls came out inspired and focused. During warm-ups, it was obvious that Kennesaw State didn’t want a repeat performance from Monday night. The players had a very business like look on their faces, and it was apparent that they heard their head coach’s message of playing “fearless.”
The Owls were so inspired for retribution that they started pressing too much - early on in the game they missed some easy baskets. This allowed Stetson to take control of the game as they opened an early five point lead at 12-7. But basketball is a game of runs and after a timeout, Kennesaw State quickly closed the gap.
As Kennesaw State settled into the flow of the game, they were able to execute and outplay the Hatters. It started with senior post, Simeon Gideon; the 6-foot senior quickly scored four straights points, and then drew a charge against Stetson’s Sanasha Sanders.
The Owls’ confidence continued to grow as they stayed neck and neck with the Hatters. And after a couple of Bria Young three-pointers, Kennesaw State took a five point lead into halftime, 30-25.
Kennesaw State built upon their first half confidence by building their lead to as much as 12. As the Owls had seized complete control of the game, Bria called a timeout. And it was almost like McGowan knew exactly what had to be done once the Hatters got back on the floor; she was in sync with her coach and understood Bria’s underlying message: “it’s time for you to take over Victoria.”
The reigning Atlantic Sun Player of the Year did just that.
“She wants to win -- I don’t know (how) much she loves winning but she hates losing,” said Bria. “And I think, she’ll put the team on her back and she’ll carry the team. I just thought she really turned it on in the second half and started getting to the basket. She played a 40-minute game (and) did really well for us.”
McGowan, a 5-foot-5 point guard had a look on her face that would have made Kobe Bryant proud -- a “we are not going to lose this game” look. Immediately she began to take the game over; she forced the issue by relentlessly looking to attack.
She literally did everything possible to bring her team back: penetrating to the basket, drawing the defense to setup her teammates, hitting threes, making contested step-back jumpers, getting to the free throw line. Those things coupled with Stetson’s 1-3-1 half court zone changed the dynamic of the game.
“When we play (the zone), we play it very well,” said Bria. “We don’t go to it very often, but they were doing a great job getting the ball inside, we were fouling them. I kind of just tried to see what would happen.”
And even though the Hatters’ zone proved to be effective, it was McGowan’s undaunting resolve that catapulted her team to victory.
“I think McGowan got deep in the paint six or seven times in a row," said Perry. "That’s what great players do, they’re able to turn it on, she played just as many minutes as my kids -- she played 39 minutes. That kid had 33 points in 39 minutes. People that are go-to players or are stars on their team, they know how to put on their back and handle business.”
Even though her team lost, Coach Perry could take solace in the continuous evolution of her basketball team.
“I feel good (about how we played tonight); I feel it’s all about the confidence,” said Perry “When you get into February, it’s a different. This is also my first time playing (FGCU and Stetson), and so I’m learning from them as well -- as far as managing the game and things like that. I really feel really good about it, (even though) it’s two losses; those are the two best teams.
“I expect to win the rest of the way, that’s what our mindset has to be. ‘Ok we played the two best teams in the conference, can we be number three? Then (let’s) get to the (A-Sun) tournament and handle business there.’”
“I feel like we are getting better and better each game,” said Gideon. “We just got to put all the things we’ve learned throughout this season, put it all together and we’ll be alright
McGowan ended the game with a double-double as she also tallied 10 rebounds. Sanders also had 12 rebounds for Stetson. Kennesaw State was led by Gideon’s double-double, 18 points and 11 rebounds.