FORT MYERS, Fla.- The #8 Florida SouthWestern State Buccaneers were the best team on the floor for nearly all of the 40 minutes of regulation in their top 10 matchup with the #1 ranked and defending National Champion Gulf Coast State Commodores Saturday afternoon in Suncoast Credit Union Arena. The Bucs led for 37:30 of regulation and were tied for a total of 2:30, but a late desperation three for Gulf Coast banked in to send the game to overtime where the Commodores dominated, outscoring FSW 16-8 in the extra period to capture a 97-89 victory.
FSW Head Coach Dr. Kristy Ward-Cangelosi couldn't have scripted the start of the game much better as the Bucs raced out to a 9-2 and then 23-5 lead just seven minutes into the contest. The hot early shooting by the Bucs continued in the final three minutes of the first quarter as Shekinah Guthrie and Simone Lett both connected on jumpers to give FSW a commanding 29-12 lead after one quarter of action. The Bucs shot 57% from distance in the period and 50% overall while Gulf Coast shot just 33% from the field.
Za'Nautica Downs' third three pointer of the first half put FSW up 18 early in the second quarter, but a 9-0 microburst by the Commodores sliced the lead in half at 36-27. The Bucs built their lead back to 14 on a circus and-one with 2:23 but again Gulf Coast fought back, getting the final five points of the period to cut the FSW lead to 43-34 at the break. After shooting 50% in the first quarter, the Bucs slowed down to just 29% in the second and left four valuable points at the free throw line, going just 3-7 in the period.
Downs led FSW with 16 points in the half while Lett added 10 and Lewis seven points and five assists.
Gulf Coast cut the lead all the way down to five early in the third quarter before an 8-2 run by the Bucs stretched things back out to double digits at 55-44 with 5:00 remaining in the period. The teams traded blows the rest of the quarter with FSW eventually taking a nine point, 64-55 lead as they went to the fourth.
A bucket from Downs early in the fourth gave FSW a 12 point lead and it looked like the Bucs may be in the clear with 7:08 to go, but they knew better than that and three minutes later the Commodores showed why as they whittled the gap down to just two ahead of a timeout with four minutes remaining. A jumper by Gulf Coast with 3:02 left evened the score for the first time since the opening moments, but a trio of FSW free throws down the stretch had the Bucs back in front by three at 81-78 as the clock ticked under a minute. The score remained that way with as the Commodores dribbled with 20 seconds left with the Bucs inside the jersey of every Gulf Coast player on the floor. With 11.7 seconds left a desperation three banked home for the Commodores, tying the game at 81 and a missed jumper by FSW as time expired sent the game to overtime deadlocked there.
42 seconds into overtime Gulf Coast took their first lead of the game with a free throw and things went downhill for the Bucs from there. FSW didn't get their first field goal of the extra period until the final minute, at which point the Commodores had already built an insurmountable 11 point lead. A late bucket got the Bucs to within single digits, but it was too little, too late as Gulf Coast finished them off 97-89 in an early season candidate for NJCAA Game of the Year.
After a hot start, the Bucs finished the game shooting just 39% from the field while committing 13 second half turnovers to finish with 18 on the night. Downs exploded for a career high 32, topping her previous high of 29, also against the Commodores last season. Lett dialed up a 19 point, 12 rebound double-double while Sheslanie Laureano added 15 and Lewis 12 for FSW. Nairimar Vargas-Reyes just missed a double-double of her own, notching 9 points and pulling down 11 boards for the Bucs.
FSW falls to 1-1 with the defeat while the top ranked Commodores open 2-0.
The Bucs will get another quality opponent their next time out when they take on #21 Georgia Highlands in Panama City at the Gulf Coast Classic Friday afternoon. If FSW and Gulf Coast both win Friday, it would set up a rematch between the Bucs and Commodores Saturday night.