The East Tennessee State women’s basketball team wasn’t feeling any love from head coach Brittany Ezell at halftime of their game against Kennesaw State.
Down by seven points at the break, the head coach didn’t feel the Lady Bucs were giving much of an effort. In turn, the Lady Bucs experienced the brunt of Ezell’s anger before turning it around in a 74-68 win over the Lady Owls on Thursday evening at the MSHA Athletics Center.
Ezell explained it was all part of a love-hate relationship.
“I have a definite love-hate relationship with our players,” Ezell said. “When they choose to do the things we ask them to do, I absolutely adore them. When they choose to come out and play flat, and act like it doesn’t mean much to them, I can’t stand them.
“Make no mistake, it’s not an assessment of them as people. It’s the choices they make. We try to affirm to them, your life is about choices and sports reflects who you are. You make choices to compete and I thought we competed at a very high level.”
Those second-half efforts allowed the Lady Bucs to improve to 6-11 overall and 2-4 in Atlantic Sun Conference. They also snapped a four-game losing streak and pushed the all-time series record to 15-1 over the Lady Owls.
For sophomore guard Chandler Christopher, the game also meant redemption. She admitted to beating herself up after missing a wide-open layup near the end of Sunday’s one-point loss to USC Upstate.
She came back a determined player on Thursday, a day when she posted a first career double-double of 14 points and 14 rebounds, to go along with three assists and three steals.
“Of course I beat myself up, but I had to come back and do what my teammates needed me to do,” Christpoher said. “I was told just to play as hard as I could, and not worry abut shots falling or missing layups. I did that, just played as hard as I could.”
Shamauria Bridges was the high scorer for ETSU with 19 points. Bridges, a 5-foot-7 freshman guard from the Miami area, went 6-of -11 from the field and was 5-for-5 at the free-throw line. She also played a key role in a defensive effort which forced 19 Kennesaw turnovers.
“My teammates, they pumped me up and got me excited,” Bridges said. “We had some space after shoot-around today to practice our free throws. So, that came at a good time.
“It was a really big win. Kennesaw came out great in the first half, but we came out in the second half motivated. We wanted to win the game, and that’s what we did.”
It came after Lady Owls (4-14, 2-5) had scored seven straight points at the end of the first half to take a 37-30 lead into the break.
Kennesaw maintained the lead the early part of the second half, until a fire-and-brimstone speech by Ezell inspired ETSU to go on its own 7-0 run for a 50-47 lead. From there, an energetic Lady Bucs squad led the rest of the way.
“They know when I meet them about mid-court, it’s not going to be nice,” Ezell said. “Sometimes they need a little fire and I’m happy to provide that. But, it shouldn’t take that. What we told them at halftime is you stop playing girls’ basketball in high school and you play women’s basketball in college. This is your job and it’s your job to compete night in and night out.”
Brianna McQueen finished with 13 points and Maria Bond contributed 11 as ETSU played a second straight game without leading scorer Cara Bowling, who is suffering from a hip injury.
Kristina Wells led Kennesaw with 24 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. The Lady Owls also got 11 points apiece from Bria Young and Deandrea Sawyers.
ETSU is scheduled to return to action Saturday when it hosts Mercer. Game time is set for 1:30 p.m.