Brittany Ezell knew her East Tennessee State women’s basketball team would be tested this season.
She didn’t know it was going to come in her first game as the Lady Bucs head coach.
ETSU rallied from an 11-point deficit in the first half to defeat Shepherd University 116-82 in a Saturday afternooon exhibition inside the MSHA Center.
“What we told the kids at halftime is how are you going to know about yourselves if you’ve never been in a fight,” Ezell said. “When someone punches you in the mouth, how are you going to come back? It was a nice test for us.”
Although a NCAA Division II school, the Lady Rams gave the Lady Bucs all kinds of fits early, taking a 40-29 lead with eight minutes to go in the first half. They led 55-51 at the break before ETSU opened the second half with a 21-4 run to take control of the game.
Once in command, the Lady Bucs didn’t let up. They hit the century mark with 4:24 left on an old-fashioned, 3-point play by Destiny Mitchell and from there, kept trucking.
Overall, ETSU outscored Shepherd 65-27 in the second half. While the Lady Rams connected on 9 of 12 shots behind the 3-point line in the first half, they were just 1-of-8 behind the arc in the second half.
“Give them a lot of credit,” Ezell said. “They hit a lot of three’s and I don’t know if we’ve hit that many in practice yet. Our kids were a little shellshocked to see them hitting shots from 24-25 (feet), but that’s where they shoot it from. We warned them for the last two days they could shoot. The second half, we had a lot better (defensive) effort.”
Junior forward Serena Clark led the Lady Bucs with 19 points, while Jasmine Hotchkins and Chandler Christopher each finished with 16 points.
It was a greatly expanded role for Christopher, a sophomore guard from Greeneville who averaged just five minutes of playing time her freshman season.
“Chandler is such a steady force,” Ezell said. “She understands the game and she understands her role. Having she and Cara (Bowling) out there at the same time, they understand where we’re asking them to score.”
Bowling, a junior guard from Elizabethton, finished with 11 points and a game-high eight assists.
Destiny Mitchell and Tiana Burley finished with 13 and 12 points, respectively, as six Lady Bucs ended in double figures.
For Shepherd, Rachel Johnson and Alex Weakland had 15 points apiece to lead five players in double digits.
Still, they were no match for ETSU’s dominance in the paint. The Lady Bucs outscored the Lady Rams 52-24 and won the rebounding battle by a 43-31 margin.
Besides the defensive intensity, the Lady Bucs shared the basketball to a tune of 29 assists. Ezell pointed to that number being way ahead of their 19 turnovers as stats to be proud of.
“We’ve really been preaching to them about unselfishness and being a good teammate,” Ezell said. “I told them never to let it be said that you’re a selfish player or a bad teammate. I told them we would know at the end of the game with the assist-to-turnover ratio. I was thrilled with that.”
ETSU will open its regular season on Friday at Memphis. Game time is set for 5 p.m.