East Tennessee State women’s basketball coach Karen Kemp knew her team let one get away.
Melody Doss sank a mid-range jump shot with three seconds left Monday night, capping Northern Kentucky’s comeback in a 77-76 victory over the short-handed Lady Bucs at the Minidome.
ETSU led for most of the game before being outscored 6-0 in the final minute.
“A heartbreaker,” Kemp said.
The Lady Bucs were playing without two starting forwards. Destiny Mitchell suffered a knee injury in the victory over Lipscomb on Saturday, while Tosha Austin suffered a concussion in the same game.
After Tiara Hopper scored with 19.7 seconds left to cut ETSU’s lead to 76-75, Serena Clark threw the inbounds pass right to Northern Kentucky’s Kayla Thacker. The Norse worked the ball around until Doss found an open shot and swished it.
ETSU (6-12 overall, 4-7 Atlantic Sun Conference) got a good shot for the win. Clark took Shawn Randall’s long inbounds pass, dribbled once and put up a running shot from the right baseline. The ball bounced off the rim as the buzzer sounded, allowing Northern Kentucky (9-11, 6-5) to complete a season sweep over the Lady Bucs.
“Serena Clark is in the hall crying,” Kemp said. “I’m trying to tell her it didn’t come down to the last minute. If we had made free throws and some of those layups we missed, it would never have been a factor. I really feel for her, because I would have been the same way as a player if I made a turnover.”
Northern Kentucky led only twice, at 2-0 and the final score. ETSU led by as many as 14 points in the first half and 42-32 at halftime.
“To our kids’ credit, they battled and found a way,” said Northern Kentucky coach Dawn Plitzuweit, whose team won for the first time this season when trailing at halftime. “They stayed in it the whole time. They showed a lot of composure on the road. That’s the first time they’ve come back like that on the road. I’m very proud of our kids.”
Tiana Burley was a force for the Lady Bucs, especially early. She finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds, but got only four points over the final 31 minutes. She missed two free throws with 2:01 left and bobbled away a sure layup in the final minute.
“Our goal was to win without Destiny and Tosha,” Burley said. “I blame it on me. Just the little things I didn’t do. I could have done better.”
It was the third start of the season for Burley, who came in averaging 7.1 points per game. The sophomore forward outscored Northern Kentucky 16-12 over the first nine minutes.
“Tiana Burley came out and played great,” Kemp said. “But she had to play more minutes than what she normally plays.”
Cara Bowling added 15 points and nine rebounds. Brianna McQueen added 13. ETSU was 19-28 from the line and out-rebounded the Norse 49-30.
Hopper finished with 21 points for Northern Kentucky, while Doss had 15 and Jaimie Hamlet had 13.
Afterward, Kemp had a message for her team.
“We can’t be down,” she said. “I told them I was proud of them. I told them to try not to think about it. Let me do that. Let my staff do that. ”
Northern Kentucky won the previous meeting between the two teams, 68-55.
ETSU hits the road for a two-game swing to Florida with games at Stetson and Florida Gulf Coast. The status of Mitchell and Austin for those games is uncertain.