MACON, Ga. — March Madness didn’t make it out of February for the East Tennessee State women’s basketball team as the Lady Bucs were knocked out of the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament Wednesday with a 79-63 quarterfinal loss to Florida Gulf Coast.
The Lady Bucs finished 8-22, setting a program record for losses. Florida Gulf Coast won its 19th game in a row to improve to 27-2.
After a competitive first half that had 10 lead changes and seven ties, the Eagles put this one away shortly after halftime. They scored seven points in the first 54 seconds of the second half en route to a 17-0 run.
The swing was as sudden as it was dramatic. It took 4:25 and it made the final 15 minutes anticlimactic. FGCU led by as many as 24 points in the second half.
“They hit us so hard, so fast, it kind of threw us off and we could never really recover,” ETSU coach Karen Kemp said. “The first 54 seconds of the second half, that really kind of broke our backs. They got some momentum going and we couldn’t slow it down.”
Top-seeded Florida Gulf Coast will take on the winner of today’s quarterfinal game between No. 5 seed Kennesaw State and No. 4 North Florida in Friday’s semifinals.
The Eagle, playing their first A-Sun tournament game, seemed a little nervous in the beginning. The nation’s top 3-point shooting team missed nine of its first 10 attempts and led only 38-34 at halftime.
“There weren’t any adjustments,” FGCU coach Karl Smesko said about his halftime talk to his team. “There wasn’t any coaching change. Just a matter of ‘We’ve got to make more plays.’ It wasn’t a rah-rah speech. We played better. We just played better.”
Freshman Maria Bond, playing in her hometown, led ETSU with 13 points. Destiny Mitchell added 11.
“It was definitely exciting,” Bond said of playing her first postseason game in front of friends and family. “I came out with the expectation to win but that’s not what happened today.”
Sarah Hansen led the Eagles with 22 points, mostly around the rim. Eglah Griffin added 16, including seven during the decisive run. Courtney Chihil had 15 and Whitney Knight had 12.
The Lady Bucs didn’t get much production from their senior backcourt. Natalie Pickwell finished with two points. She scored them with 4:16 left. Tarita Gordon contributed one point, and that came with less than two minutes remaining. They combined to shoot 1 for 15 from the field.
Less than a week after being beaten badly on the glass by the Lady Bucs, FGCU out-rebounded ETSU 43-30. The Eagles went for 9-for-26 from 3-point range.
First-half foul trouble forced Kemp to use an unconventional lineup, and the reserves came through for the most part. With each of ETSU’s five starters having two fouls before halftime, the non-starters scored 23 of the team’s 34 points in the first 20 minute. Nine players got on the scoreboard.
With Mitchell having as many fouls (two) as points, Bond and Iesha Robinson picked up the slack. They combined for 13 points as ETSU stayed within striking range.
The victory came in FGCU’s first A-Sun tournament game. The team was ineligible the past four seasons during its reclassification period to Division I.
“It’s really exciting,” said Hansen, an all-conference selection. “It’s really a great opportunity for us, for our program. It’s really exciting to be in this position and to win on top of that.”
As soon as a season that began with 10 consecutive losses came to an end, Kemp vowed to get back to work.
“We started getting better today,” said the coach who led ETSU to three consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. “We’re gonna hit it and we’re gonna hit it hard so we’re not feeling like this a year from now.”