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ETSU to face Dukes in WNIT opener

Jeff Birchfield • Updated Mar 14, 2018 at 7:21 PM

East Tennessee State will play at James Madison on Thursday at 7:05 p.m. in a first-round matchup in the Women's NIT basketball tournament.

The Bucs (20-12) earned the WNIT bid by finishing second in the Southern Conference regular season. The Dukes (21-10) tied with Drexel for the Colonial Athletic Association regular-season title.

Both teams faced a common opponent in Tennessee, which defeated ETSU 87-49 on Nov. 12 and beat James Madison 89-60 three days later.

The Bucs' Tianna Tarter went out early in the Tennessee game, but has been her team's leading scorer this season at 17.8 points per game. The 5-foot-6 senior guard from Johnson City also leads the team with 4.4 assists per game. She was recently selected to the All-Southern Conference first team for a third straight year.

Joining her at the guard positions are Southern Conference freshman of the year Erica Haynes-Overton, who is averaging 14.4 points and 3.7 steals per game, and Jada Craig, who missed some early games with an injury. Craig runs the offense at the point.

Several players have contributed in the post. Brittney Snowden is the only player besides Tarter to start all 32 games. Sadasia Tipps and Raven Dean are both averaging 5.2 rebounds per game, while Malloree Schurr offers a scrappy style of play that is often frustrating to opponents.

ETSU coach Brittney Ezell talked about her team earning a postseason bid.

“There are over 200 teams that don’t get an opportunity to play in the postseason and we feel honored to be only one of two teams in the SoCon with 20 wins,” Ezell said. “To be the automatic qualifier for the Women’s NIT is a big deal. Anytime you get a chance to play in the postseason and further build your brand, you have to be excited about it.”

The winner advances to meet the winner of Thursday night’s Penn State-Radford game.

WHO ARE THE DUKES?

Kamiah Smalls, a 5-foot-10 guard from Philadelphia, leads the team at 15.4 points per game.

She has scored in double figures in all but one game this season. She has also grabbed 6.3 rebounds and dished out 2.6 assists per game.

Other double-digit scorers are Kelly Koshuta, a 6-foot-2 forward averaging 12.6 points per contest, and Lexie Barrier, another 5-foot-10 guard, at 11.4 points per game. All three hit double figures earlier this year when the Dukes played Tennessee.

Kayla Cooper-Williams, a 6-foot-2 center, leads the team in rebounding at 7.4 per game, which includes a season-high 16 against the College of Charleston.

Logan Reynolds, a 5-foot-7 guard who attended Wise Central High School, runs the offense and is averaging 5.3 points per game.

“What jumps out at me is how they rebound so well,” Ezell said. “They’re a good combination of UNC Greensboro and Chattanooga in their athleticism and size. While we feel it’s going to be a difficult matchup, we feel we match up well. But we’re going to have rebound well and contain their bigger guards on the defensive end.”

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