JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Jan. 15, 2009) - Junior TaRonda Wiles (Danville, Va.) ate her Wheaties for breakfast this morning.
Wiles exploded for a career high 31 points, leading the ETSU women's basketball team to a decisive 69-51 win over Atlantic Sun Conference rival Belmont Thursday evening inside Memorial Center.
ETSU (8-7, 6-1 in the A-Sun) has now won three straight over the Bruins and nine consecutive home games against conference foes. More importantly, the victory moves the Lady Bucs into sole possession of first place, as ETSU leads Belmont and Jacksonville by one game in the conference standings. Belmont (10-6, 5-2) has now lost back-to-back games and has dropped four of its last seven.
"I felt like we came out ready to play tonight," said head coach Karen Kemp, whose club has now won 16 straight against current conference teams inside the Memorial Center. "We played a really tough non-conference schedule earlier in the year, and I think that prepared us for games like tonight. Playing Vanderbilt, Wake Forest, Georgia, and Kentucky made us better, and we were ready to face anything Belmont threw at us."
The Lady Bucs had no problem handling anything Belmont threw at them, as ETSU stormed out to a 26-8 run in the opening 12-plus minutes of the contest and never looked back from there. Wiles fueled the attack as she netted 13 of those points and stifling Lady Buccaneer defense kept the Bruins from scoring for nearly six minutes during the blitz.
Eventually, ETSU would extend its lead to as many as 23 in the first half, when Gwen Washington's (Manassas, Va.) jumper made it 39-16 right before the break. Belmont's Cacy Burtnett nailed a 3-pointer with 17 seconds remaining and the Lady Bucs went into the locker room with their largest halftime lead all season, 39-19.
Wiles nearly single-handedly beat the Bruins in the first 20 minutes, as she netted 18 points (8-of-9) in the first half. As a team, ETSU held Belmont to only seven field goals and out-rebounded the visitors, 27-16. The Lady Bucs were 16-for-37 from the field (41.0 percent) and posted seven assists and six steals as well.
In the second half, the Lady Bucs wasted little time adding to their lead, as Natalie Pickwell's (Kingsport, Tenn.) jumper with 15:33 remaining put ETSU up 25, 49-24, marking its largest lead of the night.
ETSU's lead hovered around the 20-point mark for the next 10 minutes, but a lay-up and free throw by Crystal Kesler at the 4:59 mark cut the Bruins' deficit to 15, 59-44. However, that is as close as Belmont would get, and the Lady Bucs cruised to their largest win of the season.
The Lady Bucs did an excellent job taking Belmont's two-headed monster of Jessica Bobbitt and Amber Rockwell out of the game. The ETSU post players attacked Bobbitt early and made her sit for the majority of the first-half with two fouls. Again the Lady Bucs forced her into two quick fouls to start the second half and Bobbitt did little damage until late in the game. Bobbitt scored most of her team-high 16 points in the closing minutes of the contest and also grabbed five rebounds. Meanwhile, Rockwell - who entered as the league's leading scorer with 15.4 points per game - was held without a field goal (0-for-5) and scored only one point in 26 minutes.
For the game, the Lady Bucs shot 41 percent (25-61) and held the Bruins to a frigid 25.4 shooting clip (15-59). ETSU grabbed a season-high 55 rebounds and out-rebounded Belmont by 23 - resulting in a 13-2 advantage in second-chance points. Eight of the 10 Lady Buccaneer players who dressed scored - including freshman Natasha Dixon (Brooklyn, N.Y.) scoring her first collegiate points.
Wiles' 31-point performance marked the first time a Lady Buccaneer player scored 30-plus since B.J. Banjo accomplished feat, when she lit up Southeast Missouri State for 39 back on Dec. 28, 2005 here in Johnson City. Wiles also set a career high with her 13 made field goals and finished with four rebounds and four steals in only 28 minutes.
"TaRonda is playing this year like I knew she was capable of when we recruited her three years ago," commented Kemp. "This time last year, if she missed a couple shots, she would hang her head and not shoot; however, this year she will continue to shoot even if the first couple attempts don't go in. TaRonda also knows she has to continue to go out there and put points on the board in order for us to be successful every night."
To go along with Wiles' stellar play, Washington posted her second straight game with a double-double. The Manassas, Va. native finished with 13 points, 10 rebounds and three steals in a game-high 34 minutes of action. Juniors Latisha Belcher (Martinsville, Va.) and Siarre Evans (Griffin, Ga.) did an excellent job rebounding for ETSU, as they each tallied 11 boards a piece, marking the first time all season the Lady Bucs had three players finish with 10 or more rebounds. Pickwell also gave ETSU significant minutes - ending with four points and five rebounds in a career-best 23 minutes.
Belmont was led by Bobbitt's and LaWanna Holiday's 16-point efforts, while Kesler pitched in with eight in the losing effort.
The Lady Bucs will close out their NBA style schedule on Saturday when they host Lipscomb at 1:30 p.m. inside Memorial Center. Saturday's game marks the seventh game in the last 15 days for ETSU. Fans who bring an old pair of eyeglasses will receive $1 admission, which ties into the Lion's Club Eyeglass Recycling Program.
For more information on Buccaneer basketball, visit www.ETSUBucs.com.