JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Feb. 28, 2009) - It was a simple scenario for the Lady Bucs on Saturday afternoon - win and earn a share of the Atlantic Sun regular season title.
Unfortunately, ETSU waited for the worst possible time to display a lackluster performance and Mercer played spoilers, as the Bears raced past the Lady Bucs, 90-79, inside
Mercer had five players score in double figures - including Courtney Ford coming off the bench to score 16 points and grab 10 rebounds. LaToya Jackson scored a game high 19 points and dished out four assists to along with three steals.
The loss sent ETSU's record down to 18-10, 16-4 in the A-Sun, and the Lady Bucs finished one game behind Florida Gulf Coast in the regular season standings. Meanwhile, Mercer helped its cause as they now await word on if they will be the three or four seed in next week's A-Sun Tournament and the Bears improved to 16-13, 12-8.
"We didn't defend and Mercer came in focused and ready to play," commented head coach Karen Kemp. "When Mercer had open shots they stepped up and knocked them down. I have been really frustrated with our defense over the last couple games now, because I believe we are a better team than that. To let somebody come into our house and put up 90 points and shoot almost 60 percent is unacceptable."
The Lady Bucs better get back to their lockdown ways on defense if they want to win a second straight A-Sun Tournament and reach the NCAAs for consecutive seasons. Earlier this year, ETSU used to rank first in the A-Sun in 3-point field goal defense and posted a stretch of five games when not allowing an opponent to reach 65 points. However, over the last three games ETSU's defense is allowing 80 points per game and seeing the opposition to shoot 45 percent from the field.
On Saturday, Mercer shot 58.5 percent (31-53) from the floor and hit eight of its 15 attempts from beyond the arc. The 31 made field goals and near 60-percent shooting clip, marked season highs by any Lady Buccaneer opponent this season.
After trailing by eight at the half, ETSU did a much better job shooting the ball in the final 20 minutes (45.7 percent) and the Lady Bucs managed to tie the game at 61-all with 7:14 to play. However, the Lady Bucs were never able to take command and grab the lead.
From that point at the 7-minute mark, Mercer posted a knockout blow; by going on a 12-2 run over the next three minutes of the contest to take a 73-63 lead with 4:18 to play. Eventually, the Bears extended their lead to as many as 15, 83-68, and the Lady Bucs never had an answer.
The Lady Bucs shot 36.5 percent (27-74) for the game and finished with a frigid 14.3 clip from beyond the arc (4-28). ETSU did force Mercer into 24 turnovers and scored 28 points off the miscues; while also out-rebounding the visitors from
For the contest, junior forward TaRonda Wiles (
In the first half, ETSU had no answer on the offensive end, as Mercer's zone defense did an outstanding job forcing the Lady Bucs to take too many outside shots. In result, ETSU shot a miserable 28.2 percent (11-39) and the Lady Bucs were held 2-of-17 from beyond the arc.
The Bears set the tone early by jumping out to a 4-0 lead and Mercer led until Belcher's two free throws at the 12:56 mark gave the Lady Bucs an 11-9 advantage. ETSU would eventually move its margin to four (13-9), but they couldn't extend it any further.
With ETSU up 18-16 (8:10 to play), the wheels fell off and Mercer took full control of the game. The Bears scored 23 of the next 36 points and took a 39-31 lead into the locker room.
Mercer shot a blistering 55.6 percent (15-27) from the field and after going 3-of-22 from 3-point land at Upstate on Thursday night, the Bears responded with a 5-for-9 showing in the opening 20 minutes. The Lady Bucs out-rebounded Mercer 22-20 and ETSU scored 16 second chance points (11 offensive rebounds).
The Lady Bucs will now begin their preparations for the 2009 Atlantic Sun Tournament, hosted at Lipscomb's Allen Arena. ETSU, who will be the number one seed, won't play until Friday at noon (1 p.m. eastern); however, the Lady Bucs won't learn their opponent until the conclusion of the Kennesaw State/USC Upstate match-up. Should Kennesaw knock off the Spartans, the Lady Bucs will face the winner of Belmont/Stetson; however if Upstate defeats the Owls then ETSU will face either Mercer or Stetson.
For more information on Lady Buccaneer basketball, visit www.ETSUBucs.com.