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13 triples, ‘defensive intensity’ help FGCU pound Illinois

FGCU, behind a solid shooting night and good defense, took down Big Ten foe Illinois.

Linwood Ferguson

Fort Myers, FL — The FGCU Eagles ‘Raining Threes’ moniker is definitely not for show. The program that has made over 4,400 triples in 15 seasons and is riding a 370-game streak with at least one trey ball, did just that tonight in an 85-61 win over Illinois in their 2017-18 season opener.

Dominating from the opening tip, FGCU shot 28-of-61 (45.9 percent) from the field. The Eagles, who have made a long-range shot in 486 of 487 games in program history, knocked down 13-of-32 triples against the Illini.

Nasrin Ulel led FGCU with 17 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the floor and 4-of-5 from long distance. Taylor Gradinjan added 14 points and three assists. Rosemarie Julien chipped in with 13 points and two boards, while China Dow finished with 11 points and four rebounds.

Illinois’ Alex Wittinger finished with a game-high 20 points on 9-of-13 shooting. She also added nine rebounds, a block, and a steal.

“This is definitely a good win for us,” said FGCU head coach Karl Smesko. “Illinois has a lot of good players and a lot of them are returning from last year. They are really well coached. The defensive intensity we had early set the tone for us early and we had a lot of our players play well tonight.”

The Eagles opened the contest with a quick 11-4 run, capped by a layup from Houston Baptist transfer Lisa Zderadicka. Illinois responded with an 11-6 run of their own to cut the FGCU lead down to two points (17-15) with 8:59 left in the second quarter.

FGCU would blow the game open over the final 8:59 of the first half, outscoring the Fighting Illini 25-10 to take a 42-25 lead heading into the locker room at the intermission. During their run to end the half, the Eagles shot 9-of-16 from the field and knocked down 5-of-7 shots from long distance.

Both teams shot better than 42 percent from the floor in the opening half, but FGCU used the energy from their crowd, their trademark three-point prowess and active hands on defense to give themselves a 17-point cushion. Florida Gulf Coast shot 15-of-30 from the field and 8-of-17 from behind the arc, while forcing Illinois into 14 first-half turnovers.

In the second half, FGCU continued their solid play and increased their lead to as many as 30 points, before cruising to the 85-61 win.

Illinois returns to the court on Wednesday, Nov. 15 when they host Chicago State. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. CT.

FGCU will hit the road from Nov. 15 - Dec. 3. Their trip begins in Miami, where they will face FIU on Nov. 15. Following that, the team flies to Akron, Ohio to battle Kent State and Akron in the Akron Classic on Nov. 17-18. Then, a short trip to Loudonville, N.Y. to face Siena follows.

The biggest event of the trip, a three-game slate in Las Vegas for the Play4Kay Shootout, is Nov. 23-25. The road stretch concludes Dec. 3 in Texas against Abilene Christian.