JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Jan. 4, 2012) – In the past, the ETSU women’s basketball team had an easy time defeating USC Upstate at home, but it was anything but that on Wednesday night.
A pair of local players stepped up their game when the Lady Bucs needed it and ETSU held on to defeat the Spartans, 67-64, inside the MSHA Athletic Center.
Senior guard Natalie Pickwell (Kingsport, Tenn.) netted a game-high 22 points and freshman guard/forward Cara Bowling (Elizabethton, Tenn.) came off the bench to finish with a career-high 15 points, three rebounds, and two steals in 21 minutes of action. Sophomore Destiny Mitchell (Bluffton, Ga.) capped off the scoring spree by recording her second double-double of the year as she registered 10 points and 11 rebounds.
After dropping their first two conference games to open the Atlantic Sun season last month in Florida, the Lady Bucs picked up the much-needed league victory to move their record to 2-11, 1-2. Meanwhile, USC Upstate suffered its seventh straight setback and dropped to 1-13, 0-3.
“One thing we talked about after we came back from break was this is a new season and we need to start it off right, so I’m glad we were able to do that tonight,” said head coach Karen Kemp, whose Lady Bucs had beaten the Spartans in their previous four home meetings by an average of 24.0 points per game.
“The last couple days of practice have been filled with a lot of energy, and Cara (Bowling) and Natalie (Pickwell) both gave us the spark we needed tonight. These two local girls really won the game for us, because of their energy and ability to knock down big shots when we needed them.”
Pickwell nailed plenty of big shots down the stretch as she tallied two of her four 3-pointers in the final 6 minutes, 26 seconds to help extend ETSU’s lead to five and seven points, respectively.
However, despite Pickwell’s fourth and final three of the game giving the Blue and Gold a 67-60 lead with exactly five minutes to play, the Spartans never backed down.
Erin Pinkett, who only made six of her 35 three-point field goal attempts coming into the game and had not made one in her last four outings, answered Pickwell’s long-range shooting by totaling three of her four treys during the stretch as well.
The Lady Bucs, who led by as many as 14 points early on in the second half, quickly saw their lead dwindle to one (45-44) in a matter of five-plus minutes. Then, ETSU pushed its lead back to five after Gwen Washington (Manassas, Va.) scored two of her four points on a lay-up, while a pair of free throws by Bowling made it a 49-44 lead with 9:33 left in the contest.
From there, both teams went scoreless for the next three minutes until USC Upstate’s Hannah Ohl snapped the drought and gave the Spartans some life. The three-pointer was all Upstate needed to gain some confidence as Pinkett stepped up with some clutch threes and it was her fourth triple which pulled the visitors back to within one, 65-64, with 26 seconds remaining.
Fortunately, following a 30-second timeout, the Lady Bucs were able to inbound the ball and take nine precious seconds off the clock until Ohl finally fouled Pickwell. The Kingsport, Tenn. native stepped up to the line with ice water in her veins and knocked down both freebies – giving the Lady Bucs the 67-64 advantage. Upstate got one final look at a three, but Tee’Ara Copney missed and the Blue and Gold prevailed with the three-point win.
For the game, the Lady Bucs shot 43.3 percent (26-60) from the field and finished at 50 percent from beyond the arc (6-12). Meanwhile, the Spartans posted a 39.3 percent shooting clip (24-61) and recorded seven of their eight three-point field goals in the second half (8-of-20 for the game). After pulling down a school record 75 rebounds against the Spartans last season at home, ETSU finished with a plus-seven advantage on the glass – 41 to 34.
Sophomore guard Shawn Randall (Orlando, Fla.) made her first start of the year and dished out a career-high seven assists, while the Lady Bucs finished with 16 as a team. Both teams did a strong job converting points off the turnovers, as ETSU netted 21 points off 18 Upstate miscues and the Spartans finished with 26 points off 19 Lady Buccaneer turnovers.
USC Upstate was led by Copney’s 20-point effort, while 6-foot-2 freshman center Paulina Zaveckaite recorded her third straight double-double (11 points/17 rebounds).
The Lady Bucs return to action on Saturday afternoon when ETSU hosts Mercer. Tip is set for 1:30 p.m. inside the MSHA Athletic Center. Fans who bring a new or used children’s book to the game will receive admission for only $1 in conjunction with the “Book the Bears” promotion.
For more information on Lady Buccaneer basketball, visit www.ETSUBucs.com.