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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – With its back against the wall one more time this season, the fifth-seeded St. Bonaventure women's basketball team (30-3) responded once again as it erased an 11-point deficit in the final six minutes and defeated 12th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast, 72-65, Sunday to earn the program's first NCAA Tournament victory.
Down 11 with 6 minutes to play, its defense being shredded for layup after layup and its offense unable to muster anything resembling a quality shot, St. Bonaventure had the body language of a group of pallbearers.
Then, Megan Van Tatenhove hit a jumper. Armelia Horton drilled two free throws. The Bonnies forced a turnover. And when Chelsea Bowker buried a three-pointer to cut the lead to five with 4:34 left, the small, but boisterous section of Bona faithful erupted in unison with the Bonnies' bench.
The tide had turned in less than 2 minutes, and Florida Gulf Coast was helpless to stop the onslaught.
In a season filled with electric, incredible moments, the fifth-seeded Bonnies saved their most memorable for Sunday afternoon in Tallahassee, stunning the devastated Eagles in overtime to advance to Tuesday's second round of the NCAA Tournament vs. 13th-seeded Marist at 7 p.m.
"The second half was just two teams that don't like to lose and who have enough talent to do something about it," said Coach Jim Crowley, a finalist for National Coach of the Year. "We were fortunate to have a little more left in the tank."
Led by Megan Van Tatenhove's 18 points, the Bonnies put four players in double figures, including 17 from Armelia Horton, whose offensive contributions were critical with All-Conference star Jessica Jenkins smothered defensively the entire game and being held to five points.
Horton added a team-high nine rebounds, while CeCe Dixon made three huge plays to fuel the 16-3 run that gave SBU a 58-56 lead with 1:19 to play. Dixon assisted on Bowker's huge three, and made two driving layups to keep FGCU reeling.
The Eagles forced overtime on a tough layup with 4 seconds to play, but Bonaventure carried the momentum into overtime and won going away, sparked by 7 points from Van Tatenhove, who struggled mightily with foul trouble the whole game. She scored 12 of her 18 in the last 11 minutes of the game.
"Coach informed me with about eight minutes left in the game that I had only taken three shots in the game and I knew at that moment I really needed to step it up," Van Tatenhove said. "I had thoughts going through my head too that this could be it, like the final game, and I didn't want it to end."
Asked if she heard the overrated cheers from FGCU fans with about 6 minutes to play, she admitted with a wry smile: "I usually don't hear many of the cheers, but I did hear that one. It was very interesting."
Disappointed with his team's defensive play when the Eagles turned a 32-24 deficit into a 53-42 lead, Crowley never lost faith.
"Our kids have come back before," he said. "They're best when their backs are against the wall."
The Bonnies erased double-digit leads at Charlotte and Dayton to in, and nearly overcame a 22-point deficit in the Atlantic 10 title game vs. the Flyers.
"We've won 30 games in a lot of different ways," Crowley said. "When it was late (in overtime) and felt like we had it in control, I felt great for our kids and for the people who made the trip down here. We know BonaNation was watching and for them to be a part of this going with their support is something we're certainly aware of and appreciate."
Now 30-3, SBU defeated Marist at the Reilly Center on Dec. 18, 67-56.
Game Notes: The Bonnies held the 3-point loving Eagles to 3 three's on 13 attempts in the first half...The Bonnies offence went 2-8 from the 3-point line in the first half...The Eagles shot 23% from field goal range, second lowest all season (21.7% against Seton Hall)...Bonnies closed out the first on a 12-1 runs that lasted 5:05...Eagle went on a 13-0 run to start the half...Jacobson was held to 3 points, fourth lowest points of the season...First overtime game all season for both teams...Bonnies went on a 10-3 run to close out the game...Cece Dixon played a career high 36 minutes...Jenkins played a career high 43 minutes...21 of Bonnies 72 points came off the bench...Bonnies only made 3 three-pointers, tied for a season low against Villanova.