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Lawrence leads Mercer over ETSU for SoCon women's crown

Jeff Birchfield • Updated Mar 4, 2018 at 9:09 PM

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Khalia Lawrence scored 29 points as No. 25 Mercer defeated East Tennessee State 68-53 in Sunday's Southern Conference women's basketball championship game at the U.S. Cellular Center.

Lawrence, the reigning two-time Southern Conference Player of the Year, scored 18 points in the first half, when she went 7-of-10 from the field. The Bears (30-2) extended their winning streak to 27 games, behind only No. 1 UConn and No. 2 Mississippi State for the nation's third-longest streak.

Counting the regular season, the top-seeded Bears went 17-0 against Southern Conference teams and earned an automatic bid to the NCAA National Championship tournament.

Erica Haynes-Overton scored 12 points to lead the Bucs (20-12), who clinched a postseason bid with a win in Friday's semifinal round. ETSU will now wait to see its next opponent when the Women's NIT Selection Night is held Monday, March 12.

She talked about the hurt of Sunday's loss, but also the accomplishments of seniors Tianna Tarter and Malloree Schurr.

"I hate it for them, but this senior class played in two conference titles," ETSU coach Brittney Ezell said. "Not many people can say they played in one. There are a bunch of kids in our league who can say they've played in one. Our kids have taken on two really tough teams, but this isn't the end of their story. They've got some games to play."

QUOTING PAT SUMMITT

ETSU struggled mightily from the perimeter, going 0-for-10 from 3-point range in the first half, and 2-for-18 for the game. The Bucs outscored Mercer 18-8 in the paint in the first half and 34-22 overall.

Alex Williams tallied 14 points for Mercer and KeKe Calloway scored 11. For ETSU, Sadasia Tipps and Tarter scored 10 points each in the loss. 

Mercer coach Susie Gardner was particularly complimentary of Tarter, calling her one of the best players she's ever coached against. She also used a quote from the late Pat Summitt to describe what she saw as a key statistic, a 33-28 rebounding advantage.

"Pat Summitt used to say that offense sells tickets, defense wins games and rebounding wins championships," Gardner said. "The first half, they were killing us on the boards, especially on the offensive end. We got started rebounding better in the second half and I think this is the first time that we've outrebounded ETSU."

FEW MINUTES AWAY

Down 14-8 early, the Bucs roared back to tie it 14-all at the end of the first quarter. But late in the second quarter, Mercer was up by two when it made an 8-0 run for a 30-20 lead and ultimately a 33-23 halftime advantage.

ETSU outscored Mercer 18-8 in the paint, but the Bucs' ice-cold perimeter shooting hampered any chance of overtaking them.

"We outscored them 34-22 in the paint," Ezell said. "We had a little lull in the second half (that) ended up being the difference in the game aside from free throws. When you look at points in the paint, Tianna was getting in the paint and Erica was getting in the paint. Our outside shots weren't falling and that happens. It's 14-14 in the first (quarter), 19-9 in the second, we were four or five minutes away."

DON’T STOP BELIEVING

Showing the determination which this squad has been known for, Schurr said they always believed they could win. Even when a media timeout was called in the fourth quarter with ETSU trailing 64-48, Schurr said the Bucs still thought there was still a believe they would pull it out.

"When there was four minutes left, we were in the huddle and I remember asking Raven (Dean), 'Do you believe we can still come back?' " Schurr said. "We said, 'Yeah.' We thought we could come back the whole time. We never gave up. It just didn't come out the way we wanted."

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