East Tennessee State’s Lady Bucs began the basketball season wondering if they have what it takes to win another Atlantic Sun Conference championship.
Now they’re wondering if they even have what it takes to make the tournament.
The Lady Bucs left themselves in a precarious position Saturday in the Dome with a 74-69 overtime loss to North Florida — their eighth loss in the last 10 games. They’re currently in the eighth, and final, qualifying spot in the conference with four games left in the regular season.
At 5-9, they still hold a two-game lead over ninth-place Lipscomb. The teams will meet in Nashville on Thursday night.
Still left on the ETSU schedule are Florida Gulf Coast, Stetson and Belmont — the top three teams in the standings. They’ve all beaten the Lady Bucs this season.
“How frustrating it is, and has been, for me,” said ETSU coach Karen Kemp. “I lose a lot of sleep at night trying to figure it out. We’re not a great team, but we still have time to get it right so that we’re down in Macon in three weeks.”
Assuming they get there, the Lady Bucs (6-18 overall) don’t look like a team capable of doing much damage.
They played catch-up almost the whole way against the Lady Ospreys (6-8, 9-16), a team they had beaten 10 of 12 times before a 70-67 loss last month in Jacksonville.
They gave up 23 offensive rebounds — 11 by Raneisha Lamar alone — and were crushed on the boards 55-40. They were outscored in the paint 38-16. They shot 33 percent from the field, including 1 of 7 in overtime.
North Florida was able to weather a nearly five-minute drought late in regulation and force overtime on a short bank shot by Larkira Jones with 17 seconds left.
Jones then scored two more baskets early in the extra period — the second off her 12th rebound -- and the Lady Bucs were chasing again. They would never catch up.
The biggest shot for the Lady Ospreys was a 3-pointer by Jadhken Kerr that gave them a four-point lead with 1:19 to play. Kerr, a 5-11 junior guard, hit seven threes on the day and led all scorers with 25 points.
Lamar dominated inside with her 15 points and 15 rebounds, while Taylor Smith chipped in with 10 points.
Natalie Pickwell led ETSU with 18 points; a dozen came on 3-pointers. Destiny Mitchell had 13 points and 10 rebounds, and freshman Cara Bowling scored 13.
The results left nerves frayed on the ETSU side afterward.
“We have six or seven that have the right mindset, but there’s 15 of us out there,” said Kemp. “It takes us all to pull together and do whatever we can to figure this out.”
Said Pickwell, one of the team’s three seniors, “We’ve got four games left, and we’re not going to be happy if we’re sitting here at home.”
Bowling, the freshman from Elizabethton, was trying to be upbeat.
“We have to keep our heads up and not be negative about the whole situation,” she said.