REPEAT IS SWEET: Lady Bucs rally past Jacksonville for second straight A-Sun Championship, 58-52
Saturday, March 7, 2009

ETSU becomes first team to punch its ticket to the Big Dance in 2009


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (March 7, 2009) - For the second straight season the ETSU Lady Buccaneers are going dancing.


Trailing 43-39 with 9:40 to play, the ETSU women's basketball team dug deep and showed Jacksonville who wanted an Atlantic Sun Tournament title more, as the Lady Bucs rallied past the Dolphins 58-52 on Saturday afternoon inside Lipscomb's Allen Arena.


The victory not only gave the Lady Bucs their third straight 20-win season (20-10), but ETSU also became the first team to punch its ticket to the 2009 NCAA Tournament. In addition, ETSU became the first team since Georgia State (2002-03) to win consecutive A-Sun Tournament titles.


Three Lady Buccaneer players scored in double figures with junior forward TaRonda Wiles (Danville, Va.) pacing ETSU with a game-high 15 points. Fellow junior and 2009 Tournament MVP Siarre Evans (Griffin, Ga.) notched her second straight double-double (18th of the season) - finishing with 12 points and 15 rebounds. Evans also moved past Jennifer Campbell for sixth on the all-time Lady Buccaneer scoring list (1,315 points). Sophomore transfer Shannon White (Kansas City, Kan.) came off the bench and kept the Lady Bucs in the game during the first half, as she scored all 10 of her points (season high) in the first 20 minutes.


"You know it really feels good to get another championship under our belt," commented head coach Karen Kemp, who has now guided the Lady Bucs to three straight postseason appearances. "We had to fight there for forty minutes, but fortunately, we kept our composure when they made runs and were able to bring another championship back to Johnson City."


The opening six minutes of the first half were tightly contested as the teams combined for one tie and five lead changes, but with the Lady Bucs up 9-8; Jacksonville got hot and used a 12-2 run to grab a 20-11 advantage at the 8:44 mark after the Dolphins drained back-to-back threes.


ETSU answered the JU attack with an 8-2 spurt and got to within three, 22-19, after White laid one in with 5:11 remaining in the half. Then, after Jacksonville went nearly four minutes without scoring, Lynsey Paschal got the Dolphins back into rhythm as she pushed their lead up to seven, 26-19. However, the Lady Bucs were fortunate White showed up with some intensity and wanted to be a leader, as she scored the last eight points for ETSU to close the gap to 28-23 at intermission.


"Shannon played a big role for us today," added Kemp. "She comes to practice everyday and plays her heart out. I was disappointed in her yesterday because I didn't think she brought the same type of energy she normally does. However, this morning at shoot around, I pulled her to the side and she looked at me and said - I am going to bring that energy you need today. She definitely gave us a lift in the first half and if it wasn't for Shannon, Jacksonville's lead would have been larger."


After shooting 62.1 percent from the field in the first half against Mercer on Friday, ETSU couldn't get going on offense to start the opening 20 minutes of the championship contest. The Lady Bucs were held to a dismal 30.3 shooting percentage (10-33) and finished only 2-of-10 from beyond the arc. Jacksonville's pressure defense also forced the Lady Bucs into 11 first-half turnovers and the Dolphins turned those mistakes into seven points. ETSU did out-rebound the Dolphins by three, 23-20, and the Lady Bucs took full use of nine offensive rebounds - converting those into 12 second-chance points.


Jacksonville opened the second half with a 3-pointer by Courtney Jackson, but the Lady Bucs continued to fight and Wiles' baseline jumper cut the deficit to four, 31-27, with 17:48 left in the contest.


From there, ETSU continued building its run, and Gwen Washington's (Manassas, Va.) first field goal of the game put the Lady Bucs on top 34-33 with 15:17 on the clock - giving the top-seeded team their first lead since the 14:18 mark of the first half (9-8). Overall the Lady Bucs mounted a 12-0 run and grabbed a 39-33 lead after Evans sank a trey in front of the ETSU bench, but Jacksonville didn't budge.


The Dolphins responded with 10 unanswered of their own and regained a 43-39 lead when Valerie Jones connected on a jumper, but an Evans three and a Belcher lay in quickly put ETSU back up 44-43 at the 8:55 mark.


Those shots by Evans and Belcher fueled a 12-0 run as ETSU's defense kept JU scoreless for over six minutes and twelve seconds, and the Lady Bucs built a 51-43 lead with less than four minutes to play.


Then, with ETSU leading 55-45, Jacksonville made things interesting by closing the deficit to three, 55-52, but the Lady Bucs held off any chance of an upset by sinking three of their five free throw attempts down the stretch to secure a second straight trip to the Big Dance.


For the game the Lady Bucs shot 37.3 percent (22-59) and after struggling from beyond the arc in the first 20 minutes, ETSU knocked down 3 of its 6 three-point attempts in the final 20 minutes to finish 5-of-16 (31.3 percent). ETSU also cleaned up on the glass - out-rebounding the Dolphins - 50 to 37.


Jacksonville - who has now been dealt a season-ending defeat the last three seasons by the Lady Bucs - finished the season 19-13. ETSU became the first squad to eliminate the same team in three consecutive tournaments since Georgia Southern knocked off Florida A&M four straight times from 1987-90.


The Dolphins were led by Regina Omoite's 10 points.


Joining Evans on the all-tournament team included First Team All-Atlantic Sun selection TaRonda Wiles. Wiles and Evans have now been selected to the squad for the last two seasons.


The Lady Bucs will now enjoy some time off before learning their destination to the NCAA Tournament. ESPN will air its Selection Monday special on March 16th - beginning at 7 p.m. The 2009 NCAA Tournament will begin its first round play the weekend of March 21 and 22.    


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