JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Feb. 23, 2012) – The bank was open after hours for red-shirt senior guard Tarita Gordon (Wichita, Kan.) and the Lady Bucs on Thursday.
After seeing an 11-point lead erased in a span of three and a half minutes late in the second half, Gordon stepped up when the ETSU women’s basketball team needed her most and lifted the Blue and Gold to a thrilling 74-72 win on Thursday night inside the MSHA Athletic Center.
Trailing by one with a minute and thirty-six seconds remaining, Gordon knocked down a jumper from right inside the left wing – and with the shot clock winding down and nowhere to go – the guard stepped up with ice water in her veins to bank in a three from the top of key to put the Lady Bucs up four (74-70) with 35 seconds left. From there, Stetson pulled within two and had a chance to win following missed free throw attempts by Gordon and freshman Cara Bowling (Elizabethton, Tenn.), but with 6.7 seconds remaining Victoria McGowan drove down the floor and her attempt a game-winning three fell short as time expired.
Gordon – who went off for 20 points in the eight-point loss at Stetson – once again finished with 20 points on 8-of-16 shooting, while also dishing out a season-high eight assists, pulling down six rebounds and forcing three steals in 37 minutes of work. Meanwhile, sophomore Destiny Mitchell (Bluffton, Ga.) recorded her ninth double-double of the season after registering 10 points and a career-tying 14 rebounds, and senior sharpshooter Natalie Pickwell (Kingsport, Tenn.) exploded in the second half. After battling foul trouble and not scoring a point in the first half, Pickwell hit four of ETSU’s eight 3-pointers en route to finishing with 14 points and six rebounds in 27 minutes of play.
With the win, ETSU moved its record to 8-20, 7-10 A-Sun, and also moved ahead of USC Upstate (8-20, 7-10) for the seventh seed in next week’s A-Sun Tournament. The Spartans fell to league-leading Florida Gulf Coast, 76-63, in Spartanburg, but the Lady Bucs now either need to snap the Eagles’ perfect conference season on Saturday afternoon in Johnson City, or have Stetson defeat USC Upstate in Spartanburg, also on Saturday, to secure the No. 7 seed. Following the setback, Stetson dropped to 21-8, 12-5.
“I was really proud with the way our team came out and played in the second half,” said head coach Karen Kemp, whose Lady Bucs are now 13-2 lifetime against Stetson, including a perfect 6-0 in games played in Johnson City. “However, I was disappointed with how we started the first half, but they say it’s not how you start it’s how you finish.
“I was glad the bank was still open for us (regarding Gordon’s three), because that was big. Tarita actually knocked down two clutch shots, but the three she banked in was the dagger. I think that three was the difference, and we’ll take luck any time we can when it’s on our side.”
The Lady Bucs started their 12th different line-up on Thursday and the combination had some rhythm early on as ETSU led 16-15 with 10:14 remaining, but from there, three of the five starters were pulled and Stetson got hot from beyond the arc to take a 16-point cushion, 39-23, after Sasha Sims nailed the Hatters’ sixth triple of the half with 3:25 remaining.
From there, ETSU found a spark as the Blue and Gold used an 11-2 run to pull within seven courtesy of Maria Bond’s (Macon, Ga.) lay-up with less than a minute remaining. However, after Bond couldn’t convert on the and-one, Stetson made the final bucket of the half to take a nine-point lead into the locker room, 43-34.
ETSU shot 35.3 percent (12-34) from the field and went 3-of-9 from beyond the arc in the opening 20 minutes, while Stetson posted a 57.7 shooting clip (15-26) and made six of its 11 three-point attempts. The Lady Bucs out-rebounded the Hatters by one, 18-17, and converted nine offensive rebounds into 11 second-chance points, but it was ETSU’s cold shooting and Stetson’s strong three-point presence that played the big factor in the first stanza.
Whatever was said in the locker room at halftime had an effect on the Blue and Gold in the second half.
The Lady Bucs stormed out of the break and quickly forced the Hatters to burn a 30-second timeout after Mitchell found Gordon open for a lay-up to make it a 46-43 game with only two minutes and fourteen seconds coming off the clock.
The fun continued as the Blue and Gold eventually built a 30-10 run in the opening 11 minutes, 53 seconds to pull ahead, 64-53, after Pickwell drained back-to-back threes.
From there, ETSU’s lead hovered between nine and 11 points, but with the Lady Bucs up 69-58 with 5:08 remaining, things started to get dicey for the Blue and Gold.
With the Hatters playing to lock up the No. 2 seed in the A-Sun Tournament and trying to tie a program record with 22 wins, Stetson fought back and regained a 70-69 lead after a pair of free throws by McGowan capped off a 12-0 run with 1:36 remaining.
Fortunately, the Lady Bucs had an answer and it was in the form of “Gordon.”
The 5-foot-5 red-shirt senior put the Lady Bucs on her shoulders as she scored the final five points for ETSU to secure the critical conference win.
Both teams traded roles in the second half as ETSU shot 48.4 percent in the final 20 minutes to finish at 41.5 percent (27-65) for the contest. Meanwhile, Stetson went 10-of-29 (34.5 percent) in the second half and finished at 45.5 percent (25-55) for the game. The Lady Bucs held the Hatters to only three made 3-pointers in the second half (9-of-18 total), while ETSU knocked down five of its eight made threes (20 attempts) in the second half. ETSU also out-rebounded Stetson by seven, 41 to 34, and scored 16 points on 15 offensive rebounds.
Junior post Tosha Austin (Chattanooga, Tenn.) reached a milestone on Thursday as she tied her career high with five blocked shots, moving her career total to 101. Along with the five blocks, Austin tallied six points and five rebounds.
Stetson had three score in double figures as McGowan finished with a game-high 21 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
The Lady Bucs close out regular season play on Saturday as ETSU hosts league-leading FGCU at 1:30 p.m. inside the MSHA Athletic Center. Prior to the game, Pickwell, Gordon, and Gwen Washington (Manassas, Va.) will be honored with a special “Senior Day” pregame festivity.
For more information on Lady Buccaneer hoops, visit www.ETSUBucs.com.