LONG BEACH, Calif. (seminoles.com) – Led by the strong play of senior Natasha Howard in the second half, the No. 24/23 Florida State women’s basketball team was able to close out a hard-charging Pacific squad, winning 73-66 on Friday evening in the Long Beach Classic at the Walter Pyramid.
After getting in early foul trouble in the first half, which forced her to stay on the bench, Howard dominated the second half to finish with 20 points and made several big buckets down the stretch in a tight game. Perhaps more importantly, Howard’s defense at the bottom of the 2-3 zone forced more difficult looks from Pacific’s Kenyon Kendall, who had 24 points but shot just 3-of-9 in the second half when Howard could make her presence felt.
Howard’s 20 points marked her 11th career 20-point performance and the 73rd double-figure scoring effort of her career. She added eight boards and finished 8-of-9 from the charity stripe, and also tied her career high with five blocks for the third time. Florida State used the free throw line to its advantage, shooting 26-of-36 (72.2 percent) as four players made a least five freebies.
“We made some critical plays down the stretch today,” FSU head coach Sue Semrau said. “Natasha was big for us once again and had a real strong second half. We hadn’t played since Monday and we traveled however many thousands of miles, and tonight we shot poorly. But we got a win and that’s the most important thing. Tomorrow we face a very good Long Beach State team that continues to improve as the years go by. It’s going to be a tough test for us tomorrow.”
Overall, FSU was more crisp in the second half after the game’s first 20 minutes was a grind-it-out affair. The Seminoles (10-1) shot 11-of-22 in the second half and finished shooting 39 percent from the field, while the Tigers (4-5) shot 26-of-64 (40.6 percent) from the floor.
Three other Seminoles finished in double figures on Saturday night. Senior Cheetah Delgado added 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting while adding five steals, her sixth double-figure game of the season. Freshman Brittany Brown chipped in with 10 points and redshirt sophomore Morgan Jones added 11, including a few game-clinching free throws down the stretch.
Pacific’s Kendall, who had 18 points at halftime, registered 24 points to mark an opponent game high this season vs. FSU. It is just the third 20-point scorer the ‘Noles have allowed this year.
The ‘Noles were able to open their five-point halftime lead to a 42-34 advantage through the 14:44 mark in the second half. FSU came out of its first media timeout of the second half with a pull-up jumper by Delgado and two free-throw conversions by Emiah Bingley to create a 46-34 lead, its largest of the game. However, Pacific responded with consecutive 3’s to put itself back in the game at 46-40 with 12:15 left.
Howard’s presence in the second half gave FSU a major boost, as she had 13 points and FSU held a 56-52 lead over the Tigers with 6:56 remaining. Following the media timeout, Howard came back and produced a beautiful spin move inside for a big bucket, and Delgado added a free throw. However, Pacific responded with a 3-ball from Madison Parrish with 6:09 left to cut the FSU lead to 59-55.
An important stretch came on consecutive possessions for FSU, as Delgado fed Jones the ball in the post and she put up a left-handed shot off the glass in traffic to make it 62-57. Howard then came back for a big three-point play down low as the ‘Noles held 65-57 with 3:32 remaining.
Howard added a couple free throws to put FSU on top 69-63, but KiKi Moore hit a floater with 57 seconds left to cut the deficit to 69-65. Jones then showed her savviness when she drove the baseline and drew a foul on Pacific’s Kendall, causing her to foul out while Jones knocked down her free throws to lead the Tigers 71-65. A few more free throws were canned to seal the game for FSU.
It was a rough-and-tumble first half as the ‘Noles led 30-25. Pacific gained some momentum toward the end of a half on a few buckets by Kendall. Delgado led Florida State with eight points and redshirt junior Lauren Coleman provided a spark off the bench by corralling a team-best five rebounds to help keep possessions alive on the offensive front.
Florida State began the game shooting the ball well from the floor and holding an early 9-6 advantage through the first media timeout at 15:50. Howard scored an early bucket inside to become the 14th Seminole in school history to amass 1,300 career points, and a straightaway 3-pointer by Brown helped FSU drain four of its first seven shots from the field.
The ‘Noles began working the ball more inside and led 14-8 with 11:58 left in the first half. Kai James got into the scoring column for FSU by getting an easy put-back inside, as FSU was shooting 40 percent while Pacific started 3-of-8.
Overall play was very physical with little blowing of the whistles as FSU led 17-10 with 7:55 remaining in the first half. Delgado helped the ‘Noles with a floater from close to 15 feet and led FSU with four points early. In the end, both teams combined for 46 fouls and 48 turnovers.
Florida State faces tournament host Long Beach State in the Long Beach Classic championship on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT.
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