MACON, Ga. — For years, the Lady Bucs of East Tennessee State have been the hunted at the Atlantic Sun Conference women’s basketball tournament.
This year, they’re the hunters, and they’re going after some big game.
Hoping to put a disappointing regular season behind them, the eighth-seeded Lady Bucs take on top-seeded Florida Gulf Coast in the A-Sun quarterfinals today at noon inside Mercer’s University Center.
“We wanted to finish a lot higher than we did,” ETSU coach Karen Kemp said. “But everybody in our league wants to win the tournament so they can play in the NCAA tournament, and that’s been our goal all year.
“The difference is, no one really expects us to do anything this year. In years past, we’ve had something to stand up to. But I think right now, this team is capable of going in there and making some noise and continuing throughout the weekend.”
ETSU’s task today seems monumental. The Eagles have won 18 games in a row. They won the A-Sun regular-season championship by six games after going 18-0 in the league. They come in 26-2 overall, with Seton Hall and N.C. State being the only teams to have beaten them.
FGCU has outscored its opponents by an average of 22 points a game.
The Lady Bucs, conversely, had one of their worst regular seasons ever, going 8-21 overall to tie the program’s record for losses last equaled during the 2000-01 season. A program that has played in three NCAA tournaments in recent years earned the final spot in its own league tournament. ETSU has been the No. 1 seed in the A-Sun the last four years.
“It’s definitely different,” senior guard Natalie Pickwell said. “We don’t have any pressure on us. We’re the last seed. We always had that pressure of everybody gunning for us. We’re just gonna play our hardest and hope for a win. We know we can play with them.”
FGCU, making its first appearance in the A-Sun tournament after the four-year reclassifying period during its jump to Division I, is 7-2 all-time against ETSU. That includes a 71-64 victory to close the regular season last Saturday, a result that actually left the Lady Bucs feeling pretty good about themselves.
“I feel like we know them,” Kemp said. “I’ve watched that game probably 100 times now. We’re gonna figure them out and hopefully we’ll be able to do something no one else in the conference has done this year – beat Florida Gulf Coast.”
Six FGCU players average 8.0 points or more, led by Sarah Hansen at 13.8. She was a unanimous first-team All-Atlantic Sun selection. Nicoya Jackson averages 10.4 and second-team all-conference pick Kelsey Jacobson averages 10.3.
The Eagles leads the country in long-range shooting, averaging 10.9 successful 3-pointers a game. They are 36 treys shy of the national record of 340 held by Morehead State. They had 350 a couple of seasons ago, but the record did not count because they were still reclassifying to Division I.
Destiny Mitchell was ETSU’s only representative on the all-conference team. The sophomore forward, who averages 12.3 points and 9.0 rebounds a game, was a second-team pick. Mitchell is coming off a 23-point, 20-rebound effort against FGCU. She’s playing in her first A-Sun tournament game after missing last year’s event with a late-season knee injury.
“We look at this as a new season,” Mitchell said. “We’re zero and zero. We have a positive attitude, our momentum is up and we’re just ready.”