Hurricanes fend off Eagles’ second-half rally to advance in NCAA Tournament

Katie Meier and sophomore guard Endia Banks embrace following the Hurricanes' 69-62 victory over Florida Gulf Coast University March 22 at the Watsco Center. Photo Credit: Josh Halper

Survive and advance.

Fourth-seeded Miami saw its 13-point lead erased after the 13th-seeded Florida Gulf Coast Eagles rattled off six 3-pointers in the third quarter, but the Hurricanes weathered the storm late Friday evening at the Watsco Center.

Miami went on an 11-0 run midway through the fourth quarter to push back its advantage and ultimately defeated upset-minded FGCU, 69-62, for the second time in three years in the first round.

“They’re very tough and we know they live and die by the 3-ball,” Hurricanes redshirt junior guard Laura Cornelius said. “We knew in the second half they were going to go on a big run. We just knew it was coming at some point. We had to survive it, basically.”

The Eagles finished 12-of-40 from distance, but the Hurricanes’ starting five was too much.

Beatrice Mompremier led Miami with her 25th double-double, scoring 21 points and 10 rebounds. Endia Banks notched a season-high 14 points, including three timely 3-pointers, while Mykea Gray and Emese both chipped in 10 points.

“Endia, what did you say you are now? Big Shot Banks, Playoff Banks? She just carried us,” Hurricanes coach Katie Meier said. “Obviously Emese and Bea have been carrying us all year, but Endia was the X-factor by 1000 percent. The timing of her shots and her defensive rebounding. But I think every shot she hit was huge for us. It was an answer. You never find a teammate that cares more about her team, in fact, than they are coaches than Endia Banks. She is like the warm fire on this team.”

Added Banks: “I just feel like that the team needs me the most, like, when it’s, like, big-time. So I just try to be there for them, like when they need me the most and today just happened to be one of those days.”

With the victory, Miami (25-8) advanced to the second round on the NCAA Tournament to face fifth-seeded Arizona State Sunday at 7 p.m. For FGCU (28-5), the loss snaps a 19-game winning streak and ends a successful 2018-19 campaign, which featured an Atlantic Sun Conference title.

“You just admire how hard they play and how much guts they have,” Meier said of FGCU. “You know, I wish they were like, in Alaska so we couldn’t draw them, you know, because we seem to draw them [every postseason].”

After the Hurricanes scored the first basket of the second half to take a 14-point advantage, the Eagles used a 19-5 run to tie the score at 45 with 1:18 left in the third.

In the opening minute of the fourth quarter, FGCU took its first lead of the night, 51-50, behind a 3-pointer by redshirt junior Keri Jewett-Giles.

But Miami responded with 11 straight points sparked by Gray, Banks and Mompremier to regain control.

“We were so prepared for their run,” Meier said. “Emotionally and mentally we were prepared for it because they are so talented. “You know, they are one of the top three-point shooting teams in the country, and we held them in check the first half and we knew the second half would come.”

The Eagles drew within four points in the final minute, but the Hurricanes forced Jewett-Giles into a tough 3-pointer with 12 seconds left that came up several feet short of the rim.

This was Miami’s second time hosting the NCAA Tournament’s opening weekend in the past three seasons and fans from both schools came out in full force.

The visiting Eagles brought three busloads of fans from their Fort Myers, Florida, filling up an entire section on the Watsco Center with a sea of blue t-shirts.

Hundreds of Hurricanes fans came out to show their support, including a healthy number of UM students.

“I just want to hug everyone who came out,” Meier said. “Like I’m so grateful. I’m so grateful. I was really emotional just real quick right before the game just out of pride and gratitude for the administration and the student body. There are times when it just gets very humbling and you just really appreciate the support and that was one of them for sure and it helped us win.