MACON, Ga. (Feb. 29, 2012) – The third time wasn’t the charm for the ETSU women’s basketball team.
After giving FGCU a scare five days ago in Johnson City, the Lady Bucs were feeling good heading into the rematch on Wednesday, but with ETSU only trailing by four at the break the Eagles opened the second half on a 17-0 run to break away and capture a 79-63 victory in the A-Sun Quarterfinal inside Mercer’s University Center.
Freshman Maria Bond (Macon, Ga.) – who was playing in front of family and friends – scored a team-high 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting in 22 minutes off the bench, while sophomore Destiny Mitchell (Bluffton, Ga.) added 11 points (4-of-6 shooting), six rebounds, two assists, and two steals in 30 minutes of work. Unfortunately, the senior trio of Natalie Pickwell (Kingsport, Tenn.), Gwen Washington (Manassas, Va.) and Tarita Gordon (Wichita, Kan.) combined for seven points on 3-of-19 shooting in their final game in the Blue and Gold.
With the loss, ETSU saw its season end with an 8-22 record, marking the first time since the 2006 A-Sun Championship the Lady Bucs won’t be playing in the semifinals. Meanwhile, FGCU won its 19 straight game to improve to 27-2.
“I thought we played well in the first half, but it was the first 54 seconds of the second half that really broke our backs,” said head coach Karen Kemp. “They grabbed all the momentum after opening those first 54 seconds on a 7-0 run and we couldn’t slow them down. I thought we came out in the first half and defended them like we worked on the last few days in practice. We didn’t give them many open looks at the three; however, we put them on the free throw line too much and they were knocking them down.”
Despite having all five starters pick up two fouls in the opening 20 minutes of play, the Lady Bucs stood strong with the Eagles as FGCU held a four-point lead at the half, 38-34.
Neither team had much breathing room in the first half as the game saw seven ties and 10 lead changes, while the largest lead was held by the Eagles at seven with less than a minute left before intermission.
Just like they did last Saturday, the Lady Bucs opened up strong as ETSU grabbed an early 12-8 lead after Bond converted on the three-point-play with only five and a half minutes coming off the clock, but the Eagles responded with four consecutive points to even things at 12 with 12:26 remaining.
From there both teams traded buckets over the next 6-plus minutes, but with the game knotted at 21, FGCU opened a four-point lead, 25-21, after Eglah Griffin netted one of FGCU four first-half threes at the 5:16 mark. The Lady Bucs answered with a 5-0 spurt to regain a one-point lead, 26-25, but that would be the last time the Blue and Gold led for the rest of the contest.
FGCU eventually pushed its lead to seven right before the break, but a triple from Iesha Robinson (Martinsburg, W. Va.) pulled the Lady Bucs within four at the half.
The only difference maker regarding the stat sheet in the first 20 minutes of play was free throw shooting. The Eagles went to the line 13 more times than ETSU and shot 16-of-18, while the Lady Bucs made four of their five attempts. Overall, ETSU shot 42.4 percent from the field (14-33) but only sank two of its seven three-point attempts, compared to FGCU’s 31.0 percent shooting clip (9-29) and 4-of-17 showing from beyond the arc. Due to the foul trouble, the Lady Bucs’ bench had to step up and they did in a big way as they accounted for 23 of the 34 first-half points.
After holding the Eagles in check for the first 20 minutes, FGCU exploded to start the second half as the top seed stormed out to a 17-0 run to take a commanding 55-34 lead with 15:44 remaining in the game. The Lady Bucs answered with five unanswered points, but the Eagles put the game away with an 11-2 surge over the next three minutes to extend their lead to 24, 66-42, with less than 12 minutes left in the contest.
The Eagles’ lead hovered around the 20-point threshold for the remainder of the game until ETSU was able to lower the deficit to 16 at the final buzzer.
In the second half, FGCU shot 56.5 percent (13-23) from the field and went 5-of-9 from three en route to finishing 22-of-52 from the floor (42.3 percent) and 9-of-26 from long range. The Lady Bucs finished at 40 percent from the field (26-65) and went 3-for-16 from beyond the arc, while the Blue and Gold also got out-rebounded by 13. After destroying the Eagles on the boards last weekend in Johnson City (47-31), FGCU returned the favor today in Macon as they won the battle, 43 to 30. FGCU also outscored the Blue and Gold by 18 at the free throw line as the Eagles finished 26-of-30, compared to an 8-for-10 effort by ETSU.
Sophomore Sarah Hansen led four FGCU players in double figures as she netted 22 points, while Courtney Chihil ended with 15 on 10-of-10 shooting from the free throw line.
The Eagles now await the winner of No. 3 Belmont vs. No. 6 Jacksonville on Friday afternoon in the A-Sun semifinals.
Three Lady Buccaneer seniors closed out their playing career on Wednesday afternoon. In the end, Washington finished her four-year Lady Buccaneer career 19th all-time in scoring with 1,010 points, while Pickwell finished her four-year run with 156 threes and 838 career points. Gordon – who transferred to ETSU in 2009 – ended with 587 points, 186 rebounds, and 152 assists in a two-year run in the Blue and Gold.
For more information on Lady Buccaneer hoops, visit ETSUBucs.com.