MACON, Ga. -- They don’t have many victories to their credit, and they’ll be missing an important teammate, but East Tennessee State women’s basketball players insist they’re going into the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament with confidence.
The Lady Bucs are seeded seventh in the eight-team field and take on No. 2 Stetson today at 6 p.m. in a quarterfinal matchup at Mercer’s Hawkins Arena. The winner advances to Friday’s semifinals.
“We’re feeling pretty confident,” ETSU’s Destiny Mitchell said. “We just have to play hard, play Lady Buc basketball. We want to win that first game. We’ll be ready.”
ETSU, once the top program in the A-Sun, comes in with an 8-17 record and has lost six of its last eight games. Stetson is 21-8.
“It’s a new season,” ETSU coach Karen Kemp said. “We’re gonna forget about what happened in that last season. We’re gonna try to get a few victories and hopefully come back with an A-Sun championship.”
Forgetting how the regular season ended will be difficult. In the closing seconds of the Lady Bucs’ loss to USC Upstate, ETSU center Tiana Burley hit an opponent in the face. The ensuing ejection came with an automatic one-game suspension, meaning the team will be without its top inside presence when the tournament begins.
Burley had been dominating at times in recent games, raising her scoring average to 9.5 points per game by hitting double figures in six of her last eight outings.
“It’s a big loss for us,” Kemp said. “She can dominate around the basket because no one in our conference has her size and her presence. Someone else, or two or three others, have to step up. We just have to regroup.”
Burley, a 6-foot-3 sophomore who transferred from Charlotte, ranks second in the A-Sun in field goal percentage, making 51 percent of her shots. The only player ahead of her is, ironically, the recipient of her punch, Brittany Starling of USC Upstate, who makes 53 percent.
Mitchell, ETSU’s leading scorer, is averaging 11.0 points a game. She’s shooting 49 percent, fifth in the league. Without Burley, Mitchell will be more of a target for Stetson’s defense.
“That’s a tough loss,” Mitchell said. “We really need Tiana. She could have been the one to make the difference in the first game. We have to play hard, help each other out and do what we have to win.”
Stetson swept ETSU during the regular season, winning 71-55 in Johnson City and 74-65 in DeLand, Fla.
Victoria McGowan leads the Hatters, averaging 16.1 points per game, and is second in the A-Sun in 3-point shooting at 43 percent. Sanasha Sanders averages 13.8 and Sasha Sims 11.4.
“They’re a lot like us,” Kemp said. “They’re really athletic. They run up and down the floor extremely well. They can shoot the ball from the perimeter. It’s all about our defense.”
Mitchell, a two-time all-conference selection, injured a knee late in the season and has been playing in pain.
“I’m feeling better,” she said. “My knee’s still giving me trouble. I’m struggling right now, trying to do everything I can for the team.”
Cara Bowling has picked up some of the slack. The sophomore from Elizabethton has raised her average to 9.5 points per game.
Today’s other quarterfinal has top-seeded Florida Gulf Coast taking on No. 8 Kennesaw State. The other two quarterfinals -- No. 6 Jacksonville vs. No. 3 Mercer and No. 5 North Florida vs. USC Upstate -- will be played on Thursday.