Bennett’s 39 lifts Lady Commodores to title game

News Herald Assistant Sports Editor 

Posted Mar 9, 2018 at 8:50 PM


OCALA — On Wednesday, Gulf Coast guard Shayla Bennett was named the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association Two-Year College Player of the Year. On Friday in the FCSAA Region VIII Women’s Basketball Tournament semifinals, she showed Florida SouthWestern why.


Bennett scored a career-high 39 points in a 72-54 victory to lift the Lady Commodores (25-2) to Saturday night’s championship game against Eastern Florida State at 6:30 p.m. CST. The sharpshooting sophomore scored 28 of those points in the first half, with Diéné Diané and Jhileiya Dunlap helping Gulf Coast pull away in the second half.


Gulf Coast faced a much stiffer test in the Buccaneers (26-6) following Thursday’s 92-49 demolition of Broward, with the lead changing hands on seven different occasions during a highly entertaining first half. Florida SouthWestern was helped by two quick fouls on Dunlap in the first minute of action that took the All-Panhandle Conference power forward out for much of the first half. The 6-foot-2 sophomore returned in the second half and scored 10 of her 12 points while anchoring a defensive effort that limited the Buccaneers to 28 percent shooting after the break.


“We just got to settle down and Jhileiya finally got to play,” Lady Commodores coach Roonie Scovel said of the difference in the second half. “Jhileiya had some quick fouls, Alexus Dye got some quick fouls, so we were jumbling the lineup and couldn’t get settled. We were able to get some separation in the second half with our transition and solid defense. We got to keep Jhileiya in the game and she is so crucial to us with her defense and rebounding.”


Dunlap finished with 12 points, seven rebounds, and two blocked shots. Bennett made 13 of 27 shots, 5 of 11 from the 3-point line, and 8 of 9 from the free throw line for her 39 points. She went for 18 points in the first quarter alone, sparking the Lady Commodores after falling behind 8-2 to start the game and scoring 16 straight Gulf Coast points to put her team in the lead after a deep 3-pointer at 21-19.


A step-back three by LaToya Ashman at the first quarter buzzer put the Buccaneers back in front 24-23, but Bennett started the second quarter with a driving basket, a free throw, and her fourth 3-pointer to give Gulf Coast a 29-28 edge. Two more tough driving baskets gave the Lady Commodores a 40-34 lead late in the second quarter, but a 30-foot three by Ashman in the waning seconds of the first half cut the margin to three at the break.


Bennett turned into more of an initiator in the second half, finding Diané for a pair of 3-pointers – one from each corner – to build the lead to 54-43 with 3:40 left in the third quarter. Dunlap and Astou Gaye started to work their high-low game midway through the second half, with Gaye finding Dunlap inside for consecutive baskets to end the third quarter and begin the fourth to make it 60-46.


Two free throws from Bennett and another Gaye-Dunlap connection was followed by Bennett’s fifth 3-pointer of the night to increase the Lady Commodores’ advantage to 67-50 with 6:50 remaining. A bucket inside by Dye and a short bank shot by Dunlap gave Gulf Coast its biggest lead of the night at 71-50 with 4:38 to play.


All eight of Diané’s points came in the third quarter. Gaye was held scoreless but finished with six rebounds, six assists, and four blocked shots. Janesha Green had just three points after scoring a team-best 20 in Thursday’s win, but she also found other ways to contribute with eight rebounds, five assists, and three steals while helping limit Ashman to 5 of 19 shooting from the field.

“Janesha did a great job defensively on their 3-point shooter,” Scovel said. “The defense turned up (in the second half) and we finally did it without fouling. When we got settled and didn’t chase, grab, or bump, the defense was pretty stifling.”



Green 1 1-2 3, Dye 3 0-2 6, Johnson 0 1-2 1, Collins 1 1-2 3, Bennett 13 8-9 39, Diané 3 0-0 8, Dunlap 5 2-2 12, Gaye 0 0-0 0. Totals: 26 13-19 72.



Meeks 4 2-2 10, Normil 4 2-2 10, Spencer 0 0-0 0, Felder 0 0-0 0, Oliver 1 0-0 2, Ashman 5 1-4 15, Stephens 4 7-10 15, Gotcher 1 0-0 2. Totals: 19 12-18 54.


Gulf Coast 23 17 18 14 — 72

Florida SouthWestern 24 13 9 8 — 54

3-point field goals: Gulf Coast 7 (Bennett 5, Diané 2), Florida SouthWestern 4 (Ashman 4). Total fouls: Gulf Coast 15, Florida SouthWestern 15. Fouled out: none. Technical fouls: none.


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