Lady Bucs bid for fourth straight championship falls short in A-Sun semis
Lady Bucs bid for fourth straight championship falls short in A-Sun semis
Friday, March 4, 2011

Despite battling back from an 11-point halftime deficit, Lady Bucs couldn’t get past Jacksonville, 61-59

MACON, Ga. (March 4, 2011) â€" The Lady Bucs’ chance to capture a record-tying fourth consecutive tournament title came up short as fifth-seeded Jacksonville stunned top-seeded ETSU, 61-59, Friday afternoon in the semifinals of the General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament inside Mercer’s University Center.

Despite rallying back from an 11-point halftime deficit and holding a one-point lead with the ball at the 1:07 mark, the Blue and Gold made costly mistakes down the stretch as Jacksonville hung on for the two-point upset victory. Freshman guard Shawn Randall (Orlando, Fla.) pulled down a defensive rebound following a Dolphin miss, but as she was trying to give the ball to senior captain Tara Davis (Murfreesboro, Tenn.), Jacksonville’s Jessica George forced the steal and put in a lay-up â€" giving Jacksonville the lead for good with exactly one minute to play. Junior forward Gwen Washington (Manassas, Va.) fouled George on the play and was also given a technical after slamming the ball down in anger.

However, the Dolphins left the door wide open as George missed one of two shots on the technical as well as the free throw to try to convert the and-one, making it a 59-57 game. After the Lady Bucs came down and missed on the next possession, Jacksonville again made one of two free throws at the charity stripe, but ETSU didn’t back down as Davis’ lay-up with 17 seconds remaining made it a one-point game.

Again, the Dolphins had a chance to increase their lead but Gigi Thomas missed a pair of free throws, and after Davis pulled down the defensive rebound, she found McIntosh open for a lay-up. Unfortunately, McIntosh missed on two lay-up attempts forcing her to foul Crystal Bell with 3.7 seconds showing on the clock. Bell stepped to the line to make one of two â€" and after the Lady Bucs put the ball in play â€" McIntosh was left wide open for three but the ball rimmed in and out as the buzzer sounded to end ETSU’s three-year run of A-Sun Tournament champions.

Red-shirt senior post Latisha Belcher (Martinsville, Va.) led all players with 16 points, while also tallying seven rebounds and four steals in 32 minutes of play. Davis ended with 15 points, seven assists, five rebounds and four steals, while Washington registered 11 points, nine rebounds and four assists off the bench.

The Lady Bucs â€" who dropped to 19-12 following the loss â€" will now have to play the waiting game to see if ETSU did enough work in the regular season to advance to either WNIT or Women’s Basketball Invitational (WBI). The WNIT selects 64 teams to their tournament â€" 31 automatic qualifiers and 33 at-large bids â€" while the WBI is a 16-team tournament. Both pairings will be announced on Monday, March 14, following the NCAA Tournament selection show.

"First off, I want to say congratulations to Jacksonville," said head coach Karen Kemp, in an emotional postgame press conference. "Jacksonville came out on a mission and they came in with a lot of emotion and passion. They took us out of everything we tried to do in the first half, so I give them all the credit for that. It was hard to come back from the hole we put ourselves in during the first half, but we showed a lot of determination in the second half. Unfortunately, we made some key mistakes down the stretch that cost us in the end."

The first half was one the Lady Bucs would want to replay after foul trouble and cold shooting doomed them en route to Jacksonville holding a 34-23 advantage at the break.

Both teams got off to rusty starts, but the Dolphins were the team to finally find their shot and control most of the first stanza.

The Lady Bucs showed a little bit of promise early on by jumping out to a 7-2 start, but after Randall and Belcher picked up two fouls in the first seven minutes, the Dolphins capitalized with the two starters being forced to sit.

Then, with ETSU trailing by two at the nine-minute mark, the Dolphins mounted an 8-2 run to take a 21-13 lead after Ashanti Williams nailed one of Jacksonville’s four three-pointers with less than six minutes remaining in the half. From there, the Lady Bucs were only able to pull to within six on three separate possessions, but ETSU wouldn’t be able to get any closer and the Dolphins took the 11-point lead into the locker room.

For the first half, the Lady Bucs shot 24 percent (8-33) and went 1-of-8 from beyond the arc, while Jacksonville â€" who endured a difficult battle yesterday from UNF â€" managed to shoot 47 percent (14-30) from the field and 3-of-5 from three. Jacksonville also out-rebounded the Lady Bucs, 24-18.

After nearly playing even for the opening six minutes of the second half, things started to shift in the way of the Blue and Gold.

Trailing by ten with 13:14 remaining the game, the Lady Bucs posted a 14-4 run over the next five minutes to tie things at 48, after Washington hit the first of two free throws with 8:13 remaining in the contest.

The game became nip-and-tuck from there as Jacksonville was only able to build a four-point lead, but the Lady Bucs could never get over the hump after having a pair of opportunities to take the lead before Belcher’s two free throws put the Blue and Gold up one with 1:25 to go.

For the game, the Lady Bucs shot an uncharacteristic 29.2 percent (19-65), while also hitting only one of their 13 three-point attempts. Meanwhile, Jacksonville shot an even 40 percent for the game (24-60) and went 4-of-11 from beyond the arc. In addition to its cold shooting, ETSU stubbed its toe at the free throw line. The Lady Bucs â€" who ranked 12th in the country heading in the contest in free throw shooting â€" finished 20-of-29 (69 percent) at the line.

Jacksonville, who improved to 15-16 on the year, was led by Thomas’ 13-point effort.  

Should this be the final game for Davis and Belcher, the dominate duo posted quite the careers. Davis â€" who became only the third player in Lady Buccaneer history to record over 1,000 points and 400 assists â€" ranked second all-time in assists (453) and 13th in scoring (1,161); while also setting the single-season free mark with 166 made freebies. Meanwhile, Belcher capped off an illustrious career that saw her battle back from multiple knee surgeries to finish second all-time in steals (256), eighth in rebounding (773) and 15th in scoring (1,115).

"It’s hard whenever you lose any game, but when you know it’s the last one, especially for two players like this (Tara and Latisha), it makes it even harder," added Kemp.   

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