JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Jan. 19, 2012) – After cutting a 17-point deficit down to two with five minutes left to play, the ETSU women’s basketball team couldn’t get over the hump as Belmont outscored the Lady Bucs 25-14 down the stretch to hold on for an 88-75 victory over the Blue and Gold on Thursday night inside the MSHA Athletic Center.
In a game where the Lady Bucs received no help from their seniors, a pair of freshmen stepped up with strong efforts. Cara Bowling (Elizabethton, Tenn.), who made her second start of the season, finished with a career-high 16 points, four rebounds, and two assists in 23 minutes of play. Meanwhile, fellow freshman Maria Bond (Macon, Ga.) also set a career best with 16 points and five rebounds in 19 minutes of action.
However, as Bowling and Bond were stepping up, seniors Natalie Pickwell (Kingsport, Tenn.) and Tarita Gordon (Wichita, Kan.) combined for six points on 1-of-8 shooting. Pickwell, who had her streak of 48 straight starts come to an end, didn’t even attempt a shot, while Gordon added six points in 18 minutes off the bench.
While Pickwell and Gordon were struggling, Belmont’s Haley Nelson and Molly Ernst led the offensive attack for the Bruins. Nelson, who was fresh off receiving A-Sun Player of Week honors, recorded 21 points and 12 rebounds, while Ernst scored a career-high 27 points on 6-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc.
With the loss, the Lady Bucs had their eight-game home conference winning streak come to a halt, and dipped to 4-14, 3-5 in A-Sun play. Belmont ended its nine game losing streak to ETSU and improved to 6-13, 5-3.
“This is a tough loss, because we couldn’t defend our home floor tonight,” said head coach Karen Kemp, whose Lady Bucs have still won 37 of their last 42 home conference games. “Once again we came flat and didn’t show any energy to start the game. This seemed like a carryover affect from the Jacksonville trip, which is something that is surprising as I thought we had some good practices leading up to this game. I was impressed with the play by our underclassmen, but it’s discouraging to see Natalie not attempt a shot.
“We had a difficult time stopping Haley (Nelson) tonight. We knew she was good player coming into the game and is a potential candidate for player of the year. Ernst only had 11 made threes in conference until tonight, but she definitely proved she’s a strong shooter.”
Ernst and Nelson put on a shooting clinic in the first half and gave the Bruins a 43-32 lead at the break.
The Belmont tandem combined to go 10-for-11 from the field and accounted for 28 points, including Ernst tying a conference record by going 6-of-6 from beyond the arc in the opening 20 minutes.
Ernst began the game with a three and Belmont pushed its lead up to six, 8-2, but the Lady Bucs came back to pull within two, 20-18, after Mitchell put in two of her 10 first-half points with 10:42 showing on the clock.
However, that’s as close as the Blue and Gold would get as Belmont rattled off seven unanswered points following Mitchell's jumper, and built a 16-point cushion when Katie Carroll put in a pair of free throws to make it a 43-27 game with 1:30 left in the half. The Lady Bucs managed to close the final minute and a half on a 5-0 run to gain a little momentum before the buzzer sounded.
Belmont shot exactly 50 percent (16-32) from the field and made seven of its 13 three-point attempts, compared to the Lady Bucs’ 45.8 shooting clip and 2-of-5 showing from three. The Bruins – who led wire to wire in the opening half – scored 12 points off eight ETSU turnovers and cashed in seven points off seven offensive rebounds.
After finishing the first half with a 5-0 run, the Lady Bucs began the second half with consecutive buckets to cut the deficit to seven, but a three-pointer by Carroll stopped the spurt as Belmont pushed its lead back to 10, 46-36, with 18:30 left in the contest.
From there, the Bruins took their largest lead of the game when Nelson’s jumper with 13:36 left made it a 57-40 affair, but the Blue and Gold didn’t back down.
Bowling and Bond ignited a 23-4 run over a span of 8 minutes, 34 seconds to get the Lady Bucs within two, 63-61, but ETSU couldn’t inch any closer from that point forward.
Following the Lady Buccaneer spurt, Belmont scored 25 of the final 39 points of the game to hold on for the 13-point conference win.
The game was decided at the three-point line and charity stripe as Belmont outscored the Lady Bucs 33 to 15 from three and 23 to 14 at the free throw line. The Bruins shot 55.1 percent from the floor (27-49) and were 11-of-20 from beyond the arc, while ETSU shot 41.2 percent (28-68) and went 5-for-15 from three.
Joining Bowling and Bond in double figures were Destiny Mitchell (Bluffton, Ga.) and Amy Duke (Hendersonville, Tenn.). Mitchell just missed registering a double-double after tallying 13 points and nine rebounds, and Duke ended with 10 points, three rebounds, two assists, and two steals.
The Lady Bucs will look to snap their three-game losing skid when ETSU hosts Lipscomb on Saturday afternoon. Tip is set for 1:30 p.m. inside the MSHA Athletic Center. Children receive free admission and free cupcakes as they are celebrating Bucky’s Birthday.
For more information on Lady Buccaneer hoops, visit www.ETSUBucs.com.