Fort Myers, Fla. – Whitney Knight scored a team-high 17 points to lead the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles to a 79-61 victory over USC Upstate Thursday evening in A-Sun action inside Alico Arena.
Upstate falls to 9-10 overall and 1-3 in the league, while the Eagles improve to 17-2 on the year and 4-0 in conference play.
Raven Jefferson finished with a career-high 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting and added three rebounds, two assists, one block and one steal to lead USC Upstate offensively. Jefferson was one of three Spartans to finish in double-figures as Sharmayne Edwards contributed 12 points and Brittany Starling 11. Travonda Haddock led all players with eight rebounds.
Knight connected on 7-of-11 field-goal attempts and collected four rebounds, three assists, three blocks and two steals. Katie Meador posted 14 points while DyTiesha Dunson scored 11. Jenna Cobb had a team-high seven rebounds for Florida Gulf Coast.
Starling opened the game scoring the first five points for Upstate with her last, a three-point play, trimming FGCU’s lead to 7-5 less than two minutes in. The Spartans later rebounded from a four-point deficit to tie the game after Haddock and A’Lexxus Davis scored four straight as Davis’s layup at the 14:57 mark evened the score at 11-11.
Florida Gulf Coast then used an 11-2 run over the next five minutes to increase its lead to 22-13 capped by Kaneisha Atwater’s layup. Edwards followed with a jumper to make it a seven-point contest, but the Eagles would score the next five to push their lead to 27-15 with 7:31 left. Jefferson cut the score down to ten, 27-17, with her jumper.
FGCU outscored the Spartans 10-6 over a 4:04 stretch to finish the period after a layup by Stephanie Haas gave the Eagles their largest lead of the half, 42-23, with 50 seconds remaining. Taylor Gradinjan’s free-throw just before intermission sent Florida Gulf Coast into the break ahead 43-26.
The Eagles started the second half on a 9-2 run to extend their advantage to 52-28 following a basket from Dunson at the 16:23 mark. Florida Gulf Coast led by at least 20 midway through the half before a jumper by Knight gave FGCU a 65-35 lead with 7:41 remaining. Atwater’s free-throw less than a minute later provided the Eagles their largest lead of the game at 68-36.
After the free-throw by Atwater, Upstate recorded 12 of the next 15 points to make it a 71-48 game with just over four minutes left. Jefferson and Haddock combined for nine of the 12 points with Clency adding three. Katie Meador ended the run with a layup and free-throw, but Clency and Jefferson continued the scoring for the Spartans. The duo, along with Edwards, scored eight consecutive points to put Upstate down 74-56 with 1:37 to go. The Spartans were successful on their final three field-goals with Clency’s triple and Starling’s layup finishing the scoring. The basket by Starling with 27 seconds left put the final score at 79-61.
Upstate shot 51.9% in the second half including a 6-of-10 (60.0%) mark from three. The Spartans finished the game shooting 44.6% (25-of-56) overall while FGCU was 29-of-61 for a 47.5% clip. Upstate was also 6-of-15 (40.0%) behind the three-point line.
The Spartans head to DeLand, Fla. Saturday afternoon to face Stetson at 1 p.m.