Lady Bucs lock up number one seed with 18-point win over Kennesaw State, 81-63
Saturday, February 13, 2010

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Feb. 13, 2010) - With emotions riding high inside the ETSU/MSHA Athletic Center, the Lady Bucs were able to overcome a sluggish start and secure the top seed in next month's Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament with an 81-63 victory over Kennesaw State on Saturday afternoon.


ETSU, who joined arms with the WBCA for its annual Pink Zone game for breast cancer awareness, dedicated the game to former Lady Buccaneer post player Jenny Norman's (Peachtree City, Ga.) mother Lynn - who passed away this past December from the deadly disease. In honor of Norman, the Peachtree City, Ga. native was an honorary coach and received a special pink and white ball and flowers prior to the tip.


"I think we really came out with a little too much emotion today," commented senior guard/forward TaRonda Wiles (Danville, Va.), who scored 17 points, grabbed five rebounds, forced three steals and blocked two shots. "This was a special day for Jenny and we really wanted to win this game for her."


The Lady Bucs did just that, as ETSU posted its 10th consecutive home win and improved to 16-8, 14-2 in conference play. Kennesaw State saw its three-game winning streak come to an end and the Owls dropped to 8-17, 5-11.


Wiles was one of three Lady Buccaneer players to score in double figures, as junior point guard Tarita Gordon (Wichita, Kan.) netted a team-high 18 points and finished a perfect 6-of-6 at the free throw line. Joining Wiles and Gordon was freshman post Ashley Benedict (Rome, Ohio) - who shot 6-for-7 from the field to finish with 13 points and a career-high four blocks in 23 minutes off the bench.


"Just like TaRonda said, I thought we were a little too pumped heading into the start of the game," added head coach Karen Kemp, who improved to 72-18 (.800) in A-Sun games. "This was an emotional day - even in the locker room for me - because I lost my brother a few months ago to cancer and then honoring Jenny with her mom was really emotional. I always know when this team is too excited, and I have to tell them to settle down a bit. I think that was the case, being an emotional day, because of recognizing Jenny and the cancer survivors. All of us, I am sure, have been touched in someway or another with this dreaded disease."


"I thought defensively we were doing a pretty decent job to start the game - the ball just wasn't going in the hole early on for us," added Kemp. "I felt like if we continued to play good defense that our offense would come around. This team can really score. When TaRonda hit that first bucket, it got the team loose and ready to go."


Despite missing its first six shot attempts to start the first half, ETSU found itself tied at two after Tara Davis (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) drained a pair of free throws at the 15:50 mark. Things continued to remain cold for the Lady Bucs, as ETSU missed 11 of its first 13 attempts and trailed 12-7 - forcing coach Kemp to call a 30-second timeout with 11:54 showing on the clock.


However, from there, the Lady Bucs found their groove and mounted a 19-3 run over the next 6 minutes, 20 seconds - and the Blue and Gold led 26-15 after Davis found Benedict open for a lay-up - making Kennesaw State use a 30-second timeout with 5:34 remaining before the break. Over the next few minutes, the Owls would get hot from behind the arc, as Gia Lockett and Angie Smith both sank 3-point field goals - cutting the deficit to six, 29-23, with two minutes left before intermission. ETSU gained a little momentum in the closing minutes and carried a 36-26 lead into the locker room.


For the half, ETSU shot 38.7 percent (12-31) and the Lady Buccaneer defense held the Owls to a 25 percent clip (9-36). The Lady Bucs did a solid job with their perimeter shooting - connecting on four of their seven attempts - while also doing a great job distributing the ball. ETSU assisted on eight of its 12 makes in the first 20 minutes of play.


The Lady Bucs came out on fire to start the second half and got a strong boost from Gordon, as she scored seven of the first 13 points and ETSU led 49-29 heading into the first media timeout (15:53).


Kennesaw State had one final punch left in them as the Owls were able to cut it to 13, 58-45, when Ashley Holliday made a three with 10:25 left in the game; however, ETSU took over from there.


During the next seven-plus minutes, the Lady Bucs dominated and saw their lead soar to 27, 81-54, after Johneshia Good (Johnson City) found Iesha Robinson (Martinsburg, W. Va.) open from 3-point land with three minutes on clock. Eventually, the Lady Bucs were able to rest their starters and go deep to the bench, as ETSU cruised to the 18-point win.


"It's always great this time of year to be able to get your starters some rest," added Kemp, who saw nine of her 11 players reach double figures in minutes. "This is crucial time. We have to be focused and ready to play every time we hit the court. Any time our starters can come out and give the freshmen and sophomores some minutes is always good."


For the game, ETSU shot 46.8 percent (29-62) and 17-of-21 from the free throw line (81.0 percent). However, the Lady Bucs were out-rebounded by five - 47 to 42 - and allowed the Owls to grab 23 offensive rebounds. ETSU managed to score 22 points off 15 Kennesaw State turnovers; while the Lady Buccaneer bench produced 29 points.


The Owls were led by Brandi Jones' 21 points off the bench.


With the win, the Lady Bucs clinched the number one seed in the conference tournament for the third straight year, and ETSU will open up play on Wednesday, March 3 in Macon, Ga.


"I congratulated the team on clinching the number one seed, but we still know there's a lot of work to be done," said Kemp. "Our goal is to return to the NCAA Tournament for a third straight year, so we just have to stay focused over the next couple weeks. We have to continue working hard and do a better job rebounding - especially on the defensive end."


The Lady Bucs return to action on Thursday night when ETSU travels to Buies Creek, N.C. for a showdown at Campbell. Tip is set for 7 p.m. inside the John W. Pope Convocation Center.


"Campbell is much improved and they are fighting for the number two seed in the conference tournament," said Kemp. "It's not going to be easy. We didn't play well down there last year and we know they are going to be gunning for us."


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