(Photos by Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)
Brittney Ezell kept telling her team losing was not an option.
They finally listened, but for a while, it sure looked like a possibility.
Serena Clark had 18 points and 12 rebounds and the East Tennessee State women’s basketball team pulled out a 78-75 victory over Lipscomb in its Atlantic Sun Conference opener Thursday night at the Minidome.
“I think we were fortunate to escape, and escape was what we did,” said Ezell, the Lady Bucs’ coach. “I’d take an ugly win over a pretty loss any day.”
ETSU gave up a big early lead and was forced to come from behind in the tight closing minutes. Lipscomb had led by as many as four points in the final five minutes, but Maria Bond’s basket with 1:48 left broke a 73-73 tie and put ETSU up for good. Bond also blocked a potential tying 3-pointer right before the final buzzer.
“Coach Ezell kept telling us ‘Losing is not an option, losing is not an option,’ “ said Clark, who posted her sixth double-double of the season. “I’m glad our teammates stuck it out and didn’t give up.”
The Lady Bucs, who earned their 14th consecutive victory over Lipscomb, improved to 5-7. The Bisons fell to 3-9.
“I think our kids showed some resiliency,” Ezell said. “They battled through, in my opinion, one of the worst performances we’ve put on in a very long time. I don’t know if our players are resigned to playing to what they perceive to be the level of competition, but I need them at a higher level.
“Lipscomb was tremendous. They took the ball right at us.”
Cara Bowling scored 13 points for the Lady Bucs, who shot 50 percent from the field. Jasmine Hotchkins added 11.
The Lady Bucs beat what was essentially a two-woman team. Lipscomb’s Danay Fothergill and Ashley Southern were keeping their squad in the game without much help from the rest of the roster. Fothergill had 31 points and 10 rebounds, while Southern gave ETSU fits in the paint, getting 20 points and 16 rebounds.
Seconds after Brianna McQueen scored with three seconds left in the first half to give the Bucs their biggest lead at 43-31, Fothergill swished a halfcourt shot at the buzzer to cut it to 43-34 at intermission.
With the Bisons clinging to a 69-67 lead, Hotchkins grabbed a defensive rebound and passed to a teammate as she was falling over Lipscomb’s Sara Bliss. As she got up, Hotchkins appeared to hit Bliss in the mid section.
An intentional foul was called, giving Bliss two free throws and Lipscomb the ball. Bliss made one of the two and Lipscomb didn’t score on the ensuing possession, and ETSU tied it up moments later.
There were three lead changes and one tie in the final four minutes.
“Down the stretch we did a very good job of pulling together as a team,” Bowling said.
Clark was 7 for 11 from the field, but only 4 of 10 from the free throw line. She did, however, make 3 of her last 4 during crunch time. Bowling made three 3-pointers and was 5 of 9 overall.
ETSU returns to action Saturday when Northern Kentucky comes to the Dome for a 1:30 pm. contest.