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Bell leads No. 24 FGCU women to A-Sun title again

KENNESAW, Ga. (AP) — Kierstan Bell scored 30 points and 24th-ranked Florida Gulf Coast continued its dominance of the Atlantic Sun Conference with an 84-62 win over Liberty in the tournament championship game on Sunday, sending the Eagles to the NCAA Tournament for the seventh time.

FGCU (26-2), established in 1991 and a Division I member since 2011, won its 25th straight game, its 11th league title and seventh tournament championship, improving to 8-0 against Liberty.

“It was a great game, I’m proud of how our team performed,” FGCU coach Karl Smesko said. “We really shared the ball today. We got some good looks at it and I’m proud of the team, they were ready and knocked them down.”

Bell, a sophomore transfer from Ohio State is a big reason why. The first player to win A-Sun Newcomer and Player of the Year, the three-time Ohio high school player of the year became the first Eagle to surpass 600 points in a season in the second half, well after they had wrapped up the game. She hit six 3-pointers, grabbed nine rebounds, had seven assists, three steals and two blocked shots.

“I’m a team player, you know it’s a team sport and you got to work together and I think that’s what we did today,” Bell said. “That’s why we got this win and I’ve very proud and I’m so excited to get to the NCAA Tournament. Let’s go.”

Tishara Morehouse added 15 points and Aaliyah Stanley had 12 for FGCU.

Emily Lytle’s 25 points and nine rebounds paced the second-seeded Flames (19-8), who made 17 NCAA Tournaments via the Southern Conference before joining the A-Sun in 2019 and reaching three straight title games, all against FGCU. The 2020 game wasn’t played because of COVID-19.

Florida Gulf Coast lost its two games after a season-opening win, falling to Missouri State and Arkansas, both ranked teams headed for the NCAA Tournament. The Eagles beat the Flames by 20 and 15 points at home to close the regular season.

Emma List hit a 3-pointer to start a 9-0 run with Alyssa Blair hitting a 3 to end it at the buzzer to give the Eagles a 22-16 lead after one quarter. Then a 15-2 run late in the second quarter pushed the lead to 44-28 at the half. Bell had three 3s and 17 points.

FGCU was 14 of 32 behind the arc and 26 of 52 overall.

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More AP women’s basketball: https://apnews.com/Womenscollegebasketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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