Coral Gables, FL — With a 60-60 tie and only 1.5 seconds displayed on the scoreboard, Miami junior forward Keyona Hayes dribbled towards the basket and shot the layup, as FGCU junior guard Taylor Gradinjan hit the floor in the process. No whistles were blown. As Canes fans celebrated the NCAA first-round win, Eagles fans booed.
“We were in a position to win a game. It was a tight game. You can’t blame one or two calls because there’s a ton of calls within a game,” said FGCU Coach Karl Smesko. “It was a great game, with a bit of a controversial ending.”
Fourth-seeded Miami (23-8) hosted No. 13 FGCU (26-8) at the Watsco Center for the first-round of the NCAA Tournament. The Miami Hurricanes, ranked 16th in the nation in the Associated Press poll and playing in its sixth NCAA tournament in seven seasons under 12th-year coach Katie Meier, were use to the big stage. On the other hand, the FGCU Eagles were making their fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in six seasons.
The teams were back and forth in the first quarter, tying it up twice with six lead changes. Sophomore guard Taylor Gradinjan nailed a three-pointer for FGCU, but the Eagles were unable to pull ahead as Miami ended the quarter leading by only one point, 14-13.
The Hurricanes were strong in the second quarter, jumping ahead with a 14-2 run and a three-pointer and layup by sophomore guard and Netherlands native, Laura Cornelius. Miami only allowed nine points from its opponent, including a three-pointer by Haley Laughter. The first half wrapped up with the Eagles at a six-point deficit, 28-22.
Keyona Hayes opened the second-half scoring with a pair of foul shots, leading all players in points (eight) and rebounds (six). The Hurricanes went on a 6-0 run, permitting any points by the Eagles for the first three minutes of the third quarter.
Senior guard Jordin Alexander finally hit the midrange, putting the Eagles on the board, followed by Laughter dishing out her second three-pointer of the game. Once the Eagles did grab ahold of the ball, it was raining threes. Gradinjan and junior guard Jessica Cattani each tacked on a three-pointer for FGCU, putting the Eagles back in the game.
FGCU scored 17 points in the third quarter, while Miami scored 15. The Eagles were fierce, ending the third quarter down 43-39 with 10 minutes left to potentially win the game.
FGCU proved in the final quarter that they wouldn’t let the Hurricanes walk away without a fight. The Eagles did what they do best… shooting three-pointers. Junior forward and Florida native, Rosemarie Julien started it off by adding three points to the board, followed by a layup by Alexander, three-points by Laughter and a second three-pointer by Julien.
“The first half it was more nerves,” Laughter said. “I think we just needed to calm down in order to get the threes.”
The Eagles were tied with Miami, 51-51 with 4:22 left in the game. Two more lead changes brought the teams to a 53-53 lockdown, as 3 minutes and 17 seconds remained on the clock. Thanks to sophomore 6’3” forward and Netherlands native Emese Hof and junior forward Keyanna Hayes, the Canes were able to pull ahead by three points.
The lead didn’t last long, as Gradinjan downed her third and final three-pointer of the game, tying the game up 60-60 with 10 seconds left. By the looks of it, the matchup would head into overtime, but that wasn’t the case.
With one-second remaining, Keyona Hayes made her move towards the basket, got the layup, and Gradinjan hit the floor. No call on Miami.
“I just took my time and laid the ball up,” said Hayes, who scored a total of 16 points for the Canes.
After an FGCU timeout to advance the ball to just past mid-court, the Eagles threw a lob pass for one last attempt to tie the game to Alexander going toward the basket. With evident contact, Alexander went tumbling down -- no call was whistled against the Hurricanes again.
No upset, either.
Before exiting the stadium, Eagles fans stood up and booed. But, those in the stands weren’t the only one’s upset.
“Obviously, we are frustrated with how the game ended,” Laughter said. “We finally hit our peak at the end of the season, so I think that’s why it’s hard because you have to see it end.”
“It was a game until literally the last second. The way it ended makes it tougher for sure. You never want any season to end,” said Coach Smesko.
Gradinjan choked back tears after the team’s loss. “We didn’t accelerate. It sucks. You gotta deal with it.”
Miami may have won the game, but Coach Katie Meier still sees room for improvement. The team was hurt by its lack of three-pointers, something their opponent excelled at. The Hurricanes also wasted a 13-point lead and found themselves trailing twice in the final two minutes.
“If you had told me we were 1-14 from the three today, I would’ve thought there was no way we won,” said Coach Meier. “We didn’t play our best basketball game of the year and you want to. You want to at the NCAA. We had a nice focus that we let slip. A couple of mistakes late game for us, but we’re still alive. We’re excited to still play. We’re going to take it, move on, and get ready to play Monday. We will get wherever we need to be for Monday, we will get there.”
“We’re mentally tough. We executed when we needed to. I think we had the will to win and wouldn’t take no for an answer,” senior guard Jessica Thomas said.
“As a team, we’re definitely excited and happy to advance. We have a tough opponent, but the coach and the staff will help us prepare. I’m excited to have another chance to play basketball, especially being a senior.”
Miami will remain at home as they face Quinnipiac University on Monday for the second-round of the NCAA Tournament.