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Kelly Hodge

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Depleted Lady Bucs face elimination tonight

March 10th, 2014 6:57 pm by Kelly Hodge

Depleted Lady Bucs face elimination tonight

The East Tennessee State women’s basketball team started the season short-handed, and that’s the way it will go out.

The Lady Bucs will again be without Cara Bowling, their leading scorer, when they play at USC Upstate tonight in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament. The junior from Elizabethton is still experiencing concussion-like symptoms from a practice injury, which is just the latest malady in a season that has seen her go through pneumonia and a hip injury.

Bowling has played in just 18 of the team’s 29 games and has missed the last four.

The Lady Bucs have been playing the last three weeks without point guard Brianna McQueen, who was dismissed for violating team rules. McQueen started 19 games and was averaging 11.5 points, 3.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds when she departed.

Shawn Randall, the team’s lone senior, missed eight games with a broken hand. And, of course, the season started with all-conference forward Destiny Mitchell being forced to redshirt with a knee injury.

So it’s been a challenge from day one for first-year coach Brittney Ezell.

“We have to believe we’re going through all this for a reason,” Ezell said Monday. “It’s testing our mettle. Hopefully we come through it as a better team.”

The Lady Bucs already have 20 losses, and there’s no good reason to believe they won’t add to the total tonight in Spartanburg. They’ve lost four of their last five games, and seven of nine, while finishing 5-13 in conference.

Upstate defeated them twice during the regular season, though the games were competitive. The Lady Spartans (16-13) pulled out a 63-62 victory in Johnson City, and then won 69-60 at home a month later.

“I really like this matchup, like the short travel time,” said Ezell. “We played fairly well both times against them but had some mental lapses down the stretch. It’s been that way a lot this season; we’ve lost 10 to 12 games that were close in the final minutes.

“If we could just play well for 40 minutes at Upstate, that would be great.”

Ezell has gotten some good individual play, in particiular from Serena Clark. The 6-2 junior is averaging 10.5 points, second on the team to Bowling’s 11.2, and 9.9 rebounds. She’s shooting 53 percent from the field.

“I think Serena has exceeded expectations,” said Ezell. “She’s been consistent night in and night out, and I’ve been thrilled with her. I also think Chandler Christopher has stepped forward, and Maria Bond has stepped forward.”

Christopher, the sophomore from Greeneville, is averaging over 30 minutes a game and is second on the team with 35 3-pointers. She averages 7.7 points and 4.6 rebounds.

Bond, a junior forward, is averaging 9.6 points and 5.3 rebounds.

Upstate is led by all-conference fguard Brittany Clency (11.5 ppg), Brittany Starling (10.6) and Alex Stanford (9.1). Starling is fifth in the league in rebounding, at 8.1.

In other quarterfinals tonight, top-seeded Florida Gulf Coast hosts Lipscomb, second-seeded Stetson hosts Kennesaw State, and fourth-seeded Jacksonville hosts Mercer.

The title appears to be up for grabs between Gulf Coast, which went 17-1 to win its fourth consecutive regular-season championship, and Stetson, the defending champion which suffered its only two losses to the Lady Eagles. The teams played an overtime game just last Saturday, with Gulf Coast prevailing 74-73.

“There’s not a big difference between the two,” said Ezell, “but there’s a pretty big difference between them and everybody else.”

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