Lady Bucs are going dancing for the first time in school history
Saturday, March 8, 2008

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Mar. 8, 2008) - ETSU is going Dancin'.


Sophomore post Latisha Belcher (Martinsville, Va.) scored a career high 24 points and three teammates scored in double figures, as the ETSU women's basketball team made history, earning the Lady Bucs' first ever trip to the NCAA Tournament field of 64 with a 75-72 win over Jacksonville Saturday afternoon in the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament Championship game at Allen Arena.


The Lady Bucs did it by outlasting a frantic 12-2 run by the Dolphins in the final four minutes. 


Seeing its 14-point lead dwindle to one, 68-67, with 2:19 to play, the Lady Bucs made some stops and received clutch shots from senior Kelly Turman (Atlanta). Turman pushed its lead up to three on two different possessions and a layup by Belcher and free throw by Siarre Evans (Griffin, Ga.) was all the offense ETSU needed down the stretch to preserve its victory.


The win moved ETSU to 21-11 overall and tied the school record for most wins in a single season. The Lady Bucs have also won eight straight and 15 of their last 16 games. ETSU's current winning streak ties the longest in program history as it has only been accomplished four different times.


Belcher's stellar play earned her Tournament MVP accolades as she averaged 19 points, seven rebounds and 5.3 steals over the three-game stretch. The Martinsville, Va. native recorded her second steal of the game at the right time. Her pick with one second remaining ended the ball game and punched ETSU's ticket to the Big Dance; bringing the Lady Buccaneer faithful to their feet chanting A-Sun Champs!


Senior Michele DeVault (Columbus, Ohio) and sophomores TaRonda Wiles (Danville, Va.) and (Siarre) Evans also earned a spot with Belcher on the all-tournament team. DeVault averaged 13.7 points and drained 10 treys for the tournament, while Evans finished with 11.3 points and 6.3 rebounds. Wiles posted 11 points, six rebounds and four assists in Nashville as well as pitching in with nine points, nine rebounds and four assists on Saturday.


In the first half, Belcher ignited the Lady Bucs as she scored eight of their first 12 points to take an early seven point advantage, forcing Jacksonville to use its first timeout at the 15:40 mark. Belcher continued her dominance in the paint by connecting on her first six shots and pushed the ETSU lead up to 10, 19-9, after coming through on an old-fashion three-point play with 11:57 remaining in the half. From there, JU looked to inch its way into the contest, after Crystal Grable's layup made it 24-17; however, DeVault nailed the first trey of the game to put ETSU back up 10, 27-17, with 7:37 on the clock. Prior to the three, both teams were a combined 0-for-13 from behind the arc. Then, during the final six and a half minutes, ETSU went on a 13-7 run to close out the half and led 40-24.


The Lady Buccaneers shot 38.2 percent (13-34) and Jacksonville was a frigid 23.1 percent (9-39) from the floor. ETSU did an excellent job getting the Dolphins into foul trouble as the Lady Bucs went to the charity stripe 10 more times and made eight more free throws. ETSU was 13-of-18 compared to JU's 5-of-8 performance. Belcher was a force down low as she chipped in 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting in the first 20 minutes to lead all scorers.   


ETSU continued to hold its 16-point advantage as they led 51-35 heading into the first media timeout of the second half. Once again DeVault stepped up when the Lady Buccaneers needed her, because her three from the corner ended a brief JU rally and put ETSU up 49-33.


After the Lady Bucs held a double digit lead since 7:37 left in the first half, JU finally was able to lower its deficit to nine, 56-47, with 9:40 remaining. The Dolphins actually pulled to within eight on three different possessions, but ETSU had answers for each threat. Turman came through with a huge layup, putting the Lady Bucs back up 10, 62-52, with less than seven minutes left.


Then, with ETSU leading 66-52, the Dolphins posted their run to get within a point, but the Lady Buccaneers proved they wanted the tournament bid more. After being defeated in the championship game to Belmont a year ago, ETSU knew they did not want to see a repeat performance. So the Lady Bucs stepped its game up in the final two minutes to cut down the nets in Nashville.


For the game, ETSU was 27-for-61 (44.3 percent) and held JU to 27-of-72 shooting (37.5 percent). The Dolphins, who like to shoot the three, only made four and shot a dismal 21.1 percent from behind the arc. The Lady Buccaneers' five extra free throws proved to be critical as they made 19 to JU's 14. Both teams grabbed 43 rebounds and scored 14 second-chance points off their offensive boards.


Along with Belcher, Evans (10 points) and Turman (11 points) were the other two ETSU players to score in double figures. Belcher finished 8-of-11 from the field, 6-of-7 from the free throw line and grabbed eight rebounds. Eight of Evans' points also came from the charity stripe and she finished with five rebounds and two assists. Turman was 5-of-7 from the floor and produced big numbers in only 12 minutes of work.


Jacksonville's Ashley Williams was one of three Dolphin players to reach double figures in scoring as she finished with 21 points, seven rebounds and four assists. The Dolphins ended the season 23-9.


The Lady Buccaneers will now enjoy some time off as they have to wait for the rest of the field to file in during the next week and two days. Murray State also locked up a bid to the tournament by knocking off Eastern Illinois, 69-58, in the OVC championship, also played here in Nashville. ETSU will find out on Monday, March 17 where and when they will be headed in the NCAA Tournament as the 64-team field will be announced live on ESPN in part of its Selection Monday special at 8 p.m.


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