The new year brought a fresh start for the East Tennessee State women’s basketball team.
The Lady Bucs, who had just one win over the first part of the 2011-12 season, started off the new calendar year with a 67-64 victory over USC-Upstate on Wednesday evening at the MSHA Center.
Senior Natalie Pickwell led the Lady Bucs to the victory with a 22-point, nine-rebound performance, while freshman Cara Bowling scored a career-high 15 points.
“It’s got to be a new season, a new attitude,” ETSU head coach Karen Kemp said after her team improved to 2-11 overall and 1-2 in the Atlantic Sun Conference. “I told them before the game we weren’t even going to talk about last year. This is 2012 and that’s what we’re focusing on right now.
“We can still achieve the goal, and I’ve said it many times before, we can be A-Sun champs if we take care of business.”
Although the game stayed close throughout, Lady Bucs never trailed in the contest. They scored the first seven points and led 37-28 at the half.
Upstate closed to within one (45-44) on a pair of Paulina Zaveckaite free throws, but Gwen Washington and Bowling had back-to-back scores to quickly push the lead out to five.
A couple of other times when the Lady Spartans (1-13, 0-3) cut the lead to a single bucket, Pickwell responded with key 3-pointers. Leading by one with 17 seconds left, Pickwell knocked down a pair of free throws for the game’s final points.
Among Pickwell’s totals were 4 of 5 buckets from behind the 3-point line.
“I was just making them tonight,” Pickwell said. “Sometimes you have nights like that.”
According to her head coach, hitting her first 3-pointer was key to both Pickwell’s and the team’s success.
“That first three she hit, I thought it was from half-court,” Kemp said. “It was really, really deep, but she’s getting that confidence that we need her to have every night we step on the floor.”
The senior from Kingsport wasn’t the only local player to make such an impact. Bowling, a freshman from Elizabethton, had 11 first-half points and brought an energy to the floor which quickly rubbed off on her teammates.
“Energy is one of the most important things you can have,” Bowling said. “For a shooter, for a scorer, it’s great when you see your shot go in, especially the first one you take. It seemed like we had that energy and that confidence throughout the game.”
Despite that confidence, Upstate had a chance to tie at the end. But, the Lady Bucs defense stepped up and forced Copney to take an off-balance shot on her final attempt.
“We were focused on not letting them get an open look,” Bowling said. “We took that away from them and forced them to take a bad shot.”
Destiny Mitchell added a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds for ETSU.
Tee’Ara Copney was the leading scorer for Upstate with 20 points. Erin Pinkett added 12 points, all on second-half shots behind the 3-point line, while Zaveckaite tallied 11 points and 17 rebounds.
As a team, the Lady Bucs held a 41-34 rebounding advantage and outscored the Lady Spartans 30-20 in the paint.
Kemp said it was the local products who really pulled the team through when needed.
“Those local girls won the game for us because of their energy and Natalie coming out and shooting,” Kemp said. “She’s been coming in early and staying late shooting to work on her game. She doesn’t want to go out her senior year without a championship ring.”
The Lady Bucs will try to go 2-0 in the new year when they host Mercer on Saturday.