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It was close for most of the day, but the East Tennessee State women’s basketball team didn’t have enough firepower to knock off a former and future Southern Conference rival.
UT-Chattanooga used a big rebounding advantage to pull away from the Lady Bucs for a 70-61 victory Saturday at the Minidome.
“That one’s going to sting over Christmas,” ETSU coach Brittney Ezell said.
UTC out-rebounded the Lady Bucs 41-24 with no player getting more than six.
“It was very difficult because of the size of their players, but you still have to work hard,” said ETSU’s Serena Clark, who led all rebounders with seven. “I wouldn’t use that as an excuse, but it was a little tougher to get on the boards tonight.”
Cara Bowling led ETSU (3-7) with 19 points. She made 7 of her 12 shots from the field and all four of her free throws. Maria Bond added 17 points and Clark had 15. No other ETSU player had more than five.
Chattanooga has won 49 of the 70 meetings between the two teams. This one was much more competitive than ETSU’s previous effort against the Mocs, which resulted in an 81-48 loss last season.
The 10-3 Mocs, who have won six games in a row and have a win over Alabama, began to pull away from a 32-26 halftime lead early in the second half and ETSU couldn’t get close enough to catch them.
“It was a game of spurts and we just didn’t have enough to get over the hump,” Ezell said.
ETSU hurt its cause at the free throw line. One game after going 15 of 18 in a win against Indiana State, the Lady Bucs made 6 of 14.
“It’s painful because nobody tries to do poorly,” Ezell said. “Nobody goes up there thinking ‘I’m gonna throw up this brick.’ They’re tired, fatigued. We’ve got to learn to push through that and be tough. That’s what free throws are when you’re tired, mental toughness and muscle memory.”
Taylor Hall, the Mocs’ leader in just about every statistical category, had a relatively quiet day, getting eight points and five rebounds. The senior forward from Morristown West came in averaging 14.8 points and 9.7 rebounds a game.
Ashlen Dewart picked up the slack with 16 points on 7-for-12 shooting. Tatianna Jackson and Chelsey Shupert each added 10.
Hall’s 3-pointer from the top of the key with 5:00 left put the Mocs up 61-45, their biggest lead, and they cruised home from there.
“We’re not as good as we’re gonna be, but thank heavens we’re not what we used to be,” Ezell said. “Regardless of what our record shows, we’re a much, much better team than when we started.
“We’re not gonna dwell about it. Santa’s still coming to see them. They’ve been good. I still love them. What I tell our kids is ‘We’re not mad at you, we’re mad at what you’re doing.’ We could have played better and I think our kids know that.”
The Bucs stayed close for much of the day thanks, in part, to forcing 18 turnovers against a team that ranks fourth in the country in fewest miscues at 10.8 per game.
It was the 793rd career victory for first-year UTC coach Jim Foster, already in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame for his work at St. Joseph’s, Vanderbilt and Ohio State.
The Lady Bucs return to action when they play host to George Mason on Dec. 28.