East Tennessee State head coach Karen Kemp was pleased with the play of her younger players Thursday night against Belmont.
The same could not be said for her seniors.
Seniors Gwen Washington, Tarita Gordon and Natalie Pickwell combined for just 10 points, and Washington and Pickwell fouled out in the Lady Bucs’ 88-75 loss to the Lady Bruins at the Mini-Dome.
“It’s really, really frustrating,” Kemp said. “I thought my freshmen stepped up and really played well, but you have to have senior leadership.
“For Natalie Pickwell to not even attempt a shot, that’s not very good. Maybe that’s my fault where we weren’t running enough plays to get her a good look. But, she was really hesitant tonight for whatever reason.”
The same could not be said for freshmen Cara Bowling and Maria Bond, who ended with 16 points each. It matched a career high for Bond, while Bowling topped her previous best by one point.
It was Bowling’s third straight game scoring in double figures, but there was little solace after the Lady Bucs fell to 4-14 overall and 3- 5 in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
“You can have a good individual game, but to beat a good team like Belmont, you have to play together as a team,” Bowling said. “Everybody has to come out ready to play hard. We did good things in spurts, but we have to play like that the entire 40 minutes.”
Molly Ernst started strong for the Lady Bruins, hitting four 3-point baskets in the first six minutes to give Belmont a 17-8 lead.
Ernst, who made six straight treys before missing, pushed Belmont to a 43-32 lead at the half. She continued to have a hot hand on offensive end, ending with a game-high 27 points.
Even more damaging was the inside play of Haley Nelson, who ended with 21 points, 11 rebounds and six blocked shots.
“We knew she was a good shooter, but in conference games, she had only made 11 (3-pointers) all year,” Kemp said about Ernst. “Tonight, she steps out there and hits 6 of 8 from the three. Once we did find her in transition, they were going inside and we knew Haley Nelson was a really good player, possibly the player of the year in the league.”
Belmont improved to 6-13 overall and 5-3 in the A-Sun.
Bond took center stage in the middle of the second half. Trailing by 17 points, Bond scored seven points in a 13-0 run which brought the Lady Bucs back to a 57-53 deficit.
Despite never leading in the game, they were able to get as close as two points before Belmont answered with 11 straight points to put the game out of reach.
“We have to keep our energy level up and keep playing the same,” Bond said. “We can’t let them get up so far where we can’t get back in the game. They were just able to get the best of us.”
In addition to the big nights from Bowling and Bond, sophomore Destiny Mitchell totaled 13 points and nine rebounds, while freshman Amy Duke ended with 10 points.
ETSU will try to get back on track Saturday when they host Lipscomb. Tip-off is set for 1:30 p.m.