Karen Kemp said a team of hers had never shot so poorly. And suffice it to say, she hopes one never does again.
The East Tennessee State women’s basketball team won its exhibition opener Thursday night, 62-49 over Carson-Newman, but for a while, they Lady Bucs played like there was a cover over the rim.
They missed 27 of their first 31 shots.
“Never,” Kemp quickly said when asked if one of her teams had ever shot like that. “At halftime I said ‘It’s got to get better. We can’t shoot that poorly for 40 minutes.’ ”
Natalie Pickwell scored 21 points to lead the Lady Bucs, who managed to rally to finish 27 percent from the field.
“It wasn’t pretty,” said Pickwell, who was battling flu symptoms. “We just have to keep practicing and working hard.”
ETSU missed 56 shots, going 21 for 77 from the field, and made 3 of 17 from 3-point range.
“We didn’t improve that much, but the second half was better,” Kemp said. “We’re a much better shooting team than that. You wouldn’t have thought that tonight by the way we shot the ball. Hopefully we got those jitters out.”
Pickwell’s performance wasn’t exactly efficient — she made 4 of 13 shots — but on a night when the ball wasn’t falling for her team, she was aggressive enough to be the difference-maker. She was 11 of 12 from the foul line.
ETSU center Tosha Austin took advantage of all the misses to grab 18 rebounds, 11 on the offensive end. She also managed to score 14 points. Destiny Mitchell also had a double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds.
Tarita Gordon, who missed last season with a knee injury, returned to action and forced much of the early action, driving to the basket at every opportunity. The senior point guard made only 2 of her 15 shots before going down with a rolled left ankle early in the second half. She returned briefly, but finished the game sitting on the bench with her shoe off.
“It felt like I haven’t played in a while, but I’ve been practicing the whole time,” said Gordon, who added that her ankle would be fine. “It’s up to me to make easy, open shots, which I didn’t do.”
Mitchell, who missed the final six games of her freshman year after suffering a dislocated kneecap, regained her spot in the lineup. She scored 10 points in the second half after going 1 for 5 in the first half.
“The first half I was kind of scared a little,” Mitchell said. “I just had to get in a groove and I was OK. I feel like I can get going now.”
ETSU was playing short-handed. While Gordon and Mitchell were back in the lineup, several players were out of action.
Senior forward Gwen Washington sat out the game with a shoulder injury suffered in a recent practice. Elizabethton freshmen Cara Bowling (quad) and Chelsea Bowling (shoulder) were both out while rehabbing injuries. In addition, sophomore forward Ashley Miles is out for the season with an Achilles injury.
That left plenty of playing time for the rest of the team, and the early returns weren’t good. Carson-Newman, an NCAA Division II team which went 14-16 last year, wasn’t exactly lighting it up, yet the Pioneers briefly grabbed the lead a couple of times in the closing minutes of the first half.
The Lady Bucs managed to make enough shots shortly before the halftime buzzer for a 24-18 lead at intermission. By then, they had raised their shooting percentage to 21.
The Eagles stayed in the game longer than the final score would indicate. With four minutes left, they were down by five points and had the ball.
The Lady Bucs iced the victory at the free throw line, where they went 17 for 18.
Carson-Newman has a new head coach, former ETSU assistant Mike Mincey. Zoriah Williams and Shannon Depew led the Eagles with 10 points each.
ETSU closes out its exhibition season Monday night when it plays host to King College. The season opener is Nov. 11 when Tennessee Tech visits the Dome in the Preseason Women’s NIT.
“Learning ... that’s what exhibition games are for,” Kemp said. “To see exactly where you are at this stage. Hopefully by the time we tip it up for real,we will have made a lot of adjustments and improvements.”