DeLAND, Fla. (Dec. 1, 2011) – One streak had to end and another had to continue for the Lady Bucs in their Atlantic Sun Conference opener on Thursday.
Trailing by as many as 15 points in the first half and 11 at the break, the Lady Bucs fought back to tie the game twice in the second half, but ETSU couldn’t get over the hump as Stetson defeated the Blue and Gold, 68-60, in front of 3,417 fans inside the Edmunds Center.
ETSU, who had won 12 straight against the Hatters, dipped to 0-7, 0-1 in A-Sun play, while Stetson picked up its first win over the Lady Bucs since Dec. 1, 1995 and improved to 6-2, 1-0.
Senior guard Tarita Gordon (Wichita, Kan.) scored 15 of her team-high 20 points in the second half, while Destiny Mitchell (Bluffton, Ga.) added 12 points, eight rebounds, and three assists in 33 minutes of work. Joining the Lady Buccaneer duo in double figures was senior Natalie Pickwell’s (Kingsport, Tenn.) near miss at a double-double. Pickwell finished with 11 points and nine rebounds.
“Despite being down early, I thought we played well in the first half and came out with some more energy in the second half, but we just couldn’t get over the hump,” said head coach Karen Kemp. In the end, we put them on the free throw line way too much as they were in the bonus midway through the second half, and we couldn’t even get into the bonus. We have to focus on playing better defense and stop committing fouls away from the basket. Overall I was pleased with our effort and if we would’ve played like this in our first six games the results may have different. Hopefully we can build off this and continue to get better as this was the first of an 18-game conference season.
“Tarita has struggled early on this season, but she provided us with a spark today and we need this to continue. We have been telling Tarita to keep her head up over the last couple games and today she did that. She played really hard when she was out there this afternoon and it showed. I was also pleased with Natalie’s efforts on the boards because that’s an area where she hasn’t been strong, but she improved on her rebounding today. Now we just need her to knock down some threes to give us that lift offensively. With Destiny, she looks like she’s finally coming around and getting back to the way she played last season.”
Stetson came out blazing in front of its raucous home crowd in the first half, as the Hatters hit on six of their first ten shot attempts and led 15-4 after Cherisse Burris completed a three-point-play at the 14:53 mark.
The Lady Bucs were able to silence the crowd for a brief moment by scoring five unanswered to pull within six (15-9), but the Hatters put a stop to any major run by the Blue and Gold after posting a 12-5 run of their own to take a 27-14 lead, forcing coach Kemp to burn a 30-second timeout with 8:07 showing on the clock.
The Hatters eventually built a 15-point lead with 5:25 left before the break, but another ETSU run cut the deficit to nine, 35-26, after Iesha Robinson (Martinsburg, W. Va.) sank a jumper from inside the arc with less than three minutes to play. However, Stetson held the Lady Bucs scoreless for the final two minutes, nineteen seconds and led by 11 at the half, 37-26.
ETSU had no answer for Shanasa Sanders and Burris in the first half as they accounted for 24 of Stetson’s 37 points. Sanders was 6-of-10 from the field and scored 14 points, while Burris was 4-for-5 and netted 10. Meanwhile, Pickwell and Mitchell led the Lady Bucs with six points each.
Coach Kemp’s halftime speech paid off in the second half until the Lady Bucs ran out of gas late in the stanza.
The Lady Bucs erased their 11-point halftime deficit by opening the first six minutes, forty-three seconds on a 16-5 run to tie things at 42 after Gordon swished her second three-pointer of the half.
From there, a desperation three by Sasha Sims with the shot clock nearing zero snapped the run and put the Hatters up 45-42, but back-to-back lay-ups by Mitchell and Gordon tied the game for the third time at 46, with less than ten minutes to play.
Once again the Lady Bucs had a chance to take their first lead of the game, but a turnover by Maria Bond (Macon, Ga.) led to a three-pointer by Victoria McGowan, which fueled a small 7-2 Hatter spurt, giving Stetson the 56-50 advantage.
However, the Lady Bucs continued to stay energized and chipped away at the deficit, but couldn’t take the lead.
Gordon again provided a key bucket when her three-pointer with 4:56 to play made it a 56-53 game, but two empty possessions gave Stetson the opportunity to add to its lead. The Hatters did just that as Sanders sank two free throws and another freebie by McGowan made it a six point affair (59-53) with less than four to go.
The Blue and Gold looked to have had the Hatters on the ropes after lay-ups by Gordon and Mitchell made it a two point contest, but Sanders’ rebound off a McGowan miss led to second-chance points. Sanders easily laid one in off the miss, which took the wind out of the Lady Bucs’ sails. In the end, the Hatters closed the final minute, forty-three seconds on a 9-3 run to capture the eight-point conference win in the opener.
For the game, the Lady Bucs shot 33.3 percent (23-69) from the field and finished 3-of-12 from beyond the arc. After shooting lights out in the first half (51.6 percent), Stetson cooled off in the second half – connecting on seven of its 24 attempts – to finish at 41.8 percent (23-55).
The Hatters made two more threes than ETSU (5-25), but second half free throw shooting proved to be critical. Stetson went to the line 17 more times than the Lady Bucs in the final 20 minutes – 15-of-22 to 3-for-5 – and the Hatters finished the game 17-for-26. Meanwhile, the Lady Bucs went 11-of-15, and out-rebounded Stetson by 26, 50 to 34. However, the Blue and Gold were only able to come up with 14 second-chance points on 22 offensive rebounds.
Stetson was led by Sanders’ game-high 22-point effort, but the Lady Bucs’ defense did a tremendous job holding McGowan – the league’s third highest scorer (15.0ppg) – to seven points on 1-of-6 shooting.
The Lady Bucs continue their stint in the Sunshine state as ETSU travels to Ft. Myers for a conference showdown with reigning regular season champion FGCU on Saturday evening. Tip is set for 7:30 p.m. inside Alico Arena.
For more information on Lady Buccaneer hoops, visit www.ETSUBucs.com.