MACON, Ga. (March 6, 2010) - Some call her T, others call her T-Ro, but for senior TaRonda Wiles (Danville, Va.) she now holds the biggest shot in Lady Buccaneer history.
Trailing by one and a third consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament hanging on the line, the all-conference player drained the game-winning shot for the Lady Bucs as her running off-balance jumper kissed off the glass and fell into the net - putting ETSU ahead 63-62 with 2.0 seconds remaining in the General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Conference Championship. After back-to-back timeouts, UNF had one last prayer, but Juliemay Syquio's full-court heave as the buzzer sounded was off the mark and the Lady Bucs began celebrating for a third straight year.
The Wiles jumper marked two of her 14 points and the Danville, Va. native was also one of two ETSU players to finish with a double-double after recording 10 rebounds in 40 minutes of action. Meanwhile, Siarre Evans (Griffin, Ga.) also posted her usual numbers as she tallied her 52nd double-double of her career - ending with 20 points and 11 rebounds in 40 minutes.
With the win, ETSU became the first team to punch its ticket to the Big Dance, and the Lady Bucs improved to 23-8 - joining Georgia State and Florida International as the only A-Sun programs to win three consecutive conference tournaments. Furthermore, the win was a record-setting 10th straight for the Blue and Gold and the eighth consecutive tournament victory.
"First off, hats off to UNF," commented head coach Karen Kemp, whose Lady Bucs have now won 19 of their last 20 games. "They played a heck of a game and had a strong run in the tournament. They came out determined - and for a team to be in the championship for the first time - they really competed hard. It's hard even for us, because they did play so well to think their season is finished. But, I do have to say, we are glad we came away with that one-point victory. It wasn't easy as we had to work for every point, but somehow these two seniors continued to find a way. Siarre hitting big shots, and then with seven seconds left on the clock, TaRonda found a way to put the ball in the hole to make sure we accomplished the goal we set out several months ago - go back to the NCAA Tournament."
Things looked to be going easy for the Lady Bucs early on, as they broke open a 7-all contest with an 11-2 spurt to grab an 18-9 lead after Tara Davis (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) found Tarita Gordon (Wichita, Kan.) open for a fast-break lay-up - forcing UNF to burn its second timeout of the contest at the 8:47 mark.
ETSU would go on to extend its lead to 15, 25-10, as the Lady Bucs held UNF without a field goal for nearly nine minutes until Jadken Kerr nailed a 3-pointer from the corner to make it 25-13 with 4:26 left in the first half. From there, the Lady Bucs held the Ospreys to one point over the next three-plus minutes and pushed their lead to 16, 30-14, when Evans converted on the and-one with 1:38 to play before intermission. However, UNF worked its way into the bonus, and after connecting on four free throws in the final minute and half - added with Brittany Kirkland's jumper as time expired - the Ospreys cut their deficit to 31-22 at the break.
The Lady Bucs outshot UNF 44.4 percent (12-27) to 21.9 percent (7-32), but rebounding kept the Ospreys in the game. UNF out-rebounded the Lady Bucs 23-19 and had 12 offensive rebounds to ETSU' five - resulting in five second-chance points for the Ospreys.
UNF came out strong to start the second half as the Ospreys used an 8-2 run in the first 2 minutes, 36 seconds to make it a 33-30 contest, forcing the Lady Bucs to call a 30-second timeout.
Evans scored the first five points for the Lady Bucs - putting them back up 36-30 - but UNF continued making shots and eventually took a four-point lead, 45-41, when Syquio drained a 3-pointer from the corner at the 11:36 mark.
It looked like the Osprey run lit a fire under the three-time tournament champion Lady Bucs, as ETSU scored the next eight points to regain a 49-45 advantage after Evans laid one in with less than ten minutes to go.
From there, the game became a nail-biter as the game saw six lead changes and four ties in the final eight minutes of the contest. However, when it was all said and done, the sixth lead change meant the most as Wiles became the hero in the hearts of the Lady Buccaneer faithful.
"The plan was whoever got the ball they were supposed to attack," commented Wiles, who ranks sixth all-time with 1,489 career points. "I got the ball and did just that. I heard Siarre yelling behind me, so I knew she was there if I got stuck - and hopefully she could put up a shot up quickly. But I took the shot and I was hoping for a foul. After I realized they didn't call it, I was aiming for the backboard and I kissed it off the glass."
The bucket was the biggest shot ever in Lady Buccaneer history and it brought 100-plus ETSU fans into pandemonium as the ball dropped in - giving the Blue and Gold the one-point win.
For the game, ETSU shot 36.4 percent (24-66) and were 7-of-28 from beyond the arc. Meanwhile, UNF shot 56.0 percent in the second half and finished 21-for-57 (36.8 percent) for the contest. The Ospreys out-rebounded ETSU 42 to 40, but the Lady Bucs forced UNF into 20 turnovers - resulting into 22 points on the offensive end.
After celebrating and cutting down the nets, three Lady Buccaneer players were named to the all-tournament team. Evans, the tournament MVP for the second straight year, was joined by Wiles and Gordon at the post-game ceremony.
UNF was led by Syquio's 13 points; while Arlande Cherizol added 12 points and 12 rebounds.
The seventh-seeded Ospreys finished the season with a record of 12-20.
The Lady Bucs now have to wait until March 15 to see where they are headed in the NCAA
Tournament as ESPN will release the pairings on the Selection Monday special.
For more information on Lady Buccaneer basketball, visit www.ETSUBucs.com.