VILLANOVA, Pa. — Maddie Antenucci hit a two-pointer from the rim and the game seemed to be in slow motion in Florida’s Gulf Coast. One day the ball hit the shield twice – and voila! — it’s time to spin some celebratory Iron Maiden in the locker room.
“It was like, aww,” FGCU guard Sha Carter said of the shot. “When he hit, you could just feel the electricity in the arena.”
Antenucci’s three-pointer rebounded four times before flying through the net as part of it game that changes the game from behind the arc that sent 12th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast into the second round of the NCAA Tournament with a 74-63 victory over No. 5 seed Washington State on Saturday.
Carter had 24 points and Tishara Moorhouse had 16 Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament Champion Golden Eagles (33-3).
“We have a team that can be explosive,” coach Carl Smesko said.
FGCU will play the winner of Saturday’s late game between fourth-seeded Cleveland State and No. 13 at Wildcats Arena on the Pavilion campus.
Orlov sent Karaoke club Shania Twain of Washington State (23-11) early after an upset victory in the Pac-12 tournament. Tara Wallach led the Cougars with 16 points
Antenucci, who had 11 points, turned into a surprise scorer and turned a tight game into a shutout for FGCU. She averaged just 4.1 points this season, but hit FGCU’s second 3-pointer in the third quarter to give it a 43-38 lead. Her second straight 3-pointer just 35 seconds later made it 46-40 and started to break the game apart a bit.
Her third straight 3 was one of the highlights. Her shot bounced straight up off the back edge twice, hit the front corner of the backboard twice and flopped over the net. Three threes in 1 minute, 12 seconds were Antenucci’s first three shots and first points of the game.
“I feel like that pretty much sums up the third quarter for us,” Carter said with a laugh.
FGCU fans, who filled a pair of sections in the pavilion, erupted and Washington State called a timeout. The Cougars never recovered. FGCU outscored Wazzu 30-16 in the third quarter.
Antenucci’s teammates took him from there. Moorhouse was fouled in the audience — Cougars guard Aster Tukhin tapped the ball in frustration — and she made the free throw to make it 58-47. They led 61-48 in the fourth quarter.
“It just felt like we didn’t understand how to guard them,” coach Kami Ethridge said.
The Eagles closed as 1½-point favorites, over FanDuel Sportsbookso it won’t be an underdog upset regardless of seeding.
While the Cougars made a habit of singing Twain’s famous tune in victory, the Eagles did their coach a favor and played one of his favorite songs, Iron Maiden’s The Trooper, in the locker room.
Florida Gulf Coast brought a basketball program back to the region after 10 years after the storied Dunk City men’s team swept No. 12 Philadelphia in two games to advance to the Sweet 16.
Smiasko said that he does not believe that magic can be restored.
Unless, he joked, if the Eagles win.
Maybe the funky 3 Antenuccis can bring them some notoriety in Kerplank City.
With 4:14 left in the game and the Cougars trailing 70-56, the school marching band performed Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” to try to rally the team. The 1997 smash became the program’s anthem and even caught Twain’s attention. The Cougars also had Twain’s “Let’s Go Girls” written on the back of their warm-up jerseys.
They just don’t make it to the second round.
“I hope it’s a hit for those who come back,” Ethridge said.
THIS IS HIS!
Washington State’s band played in front of a home crowd — which filled in with Villanova fans late in the second half — wearing masks honoring Flyers mascot Gritty.
Washington State starters were from Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Estonia and Rwanda.
THE BIG PICTURE
Florida Gulf Coast: The Eagles shot a modest 38% from 3-point range this season. Antenucci made 27 3s this season and shot 38% from beyond the arc. She shot 41% on 3s in conference play.
Washington State: The Cougars were playing in their third straight NCAA tournament, but went 0-4 in the tournament. The No. 5 seed was Washington State’s highest in March Madness history.
“We really, really want to come back and get past that first round,” guard Charlize Leger-Walker said. “It’s definitely personal for me in terms of wanting to help this team.”
The Eagles could face a raucous home court against the Wildcats on Monday night when the heavily favored Big East team takes on Cleveland State.