The familiar face was Shy Copney, who debuted for her hometown college with 17 points — an output that featured five makes behind the three-point arc. She filled the stat sheet with five rebounds, two assists, a block and steal.
“It felt like it was where I was supposed to be,” Copney said about playing in Johnson City.
The familiar returnee was preseason All-Southern Conference selection Tiana Tarter. She didn’t take a single shot in the first half but when she did in the second half, it was crucial.
Tarter recorded her 12th career double-double with 14 points and 11 assists. Four of her assists went to Copney and the senior floor general was charged with only one turnover in her 40 minutes on the court. She was clutch at the free throw line, going 7-for-9.
“It felt like old times,” Tarter added about playing with her Science Hill teammate (Copney). “She came ready to play and made some big shots. That’s what she does.”
The Bucs saw Cincinnati jump in front 31-18 less than two minutes into the second quarter. Three-pointers from Raven Dean, Jada Craig and Copney helped ETSU close the first half on a 22-13 run as Cincinnati led by four at the break.
“We got their attention after the first quarter and let them know that this was a winnable game,” ETSU head coach Brittney Ezell said. “Cincinnati is big and talented. They were doing all the things we warned them (about) prior to the game. The team made a concerted effort to do a better job defensively and to be more focused offensively. The credit goes to them for making the adjustments,”
It was Tarter who tied the game at 46 with a pair of free throws just two minutes into the second half to get the 1,059 fans inside Brooks Gym pumped up. Eventually the Bucs built a 64-51 lead late in the third quarter.
The Bearcats did not go away, trimming the margin to single digits in the fourth quarter. Cincinnati used an Ana Owens free throw with 2:39 remaining to come within three, 74-71. That would be as close as the game would be down the stretch.
“How fun was that?” Ezell said about the home crowd. “If it is like that every night in Brooks this will be the toughest place to play not only in the SoCon, but in the region. That was unbelievable. I want to credit the band for a couple of their missed free throws. It was awesome.”
Dean paced the Bucs offensively as she posted 19 points for her 16th career double-digit scoring game. Newcomer Erica Haynes-Overton contributed 16 points while junior college transfer Britney Snowden finished with 10 points by going 5-for-5 from the field.
The Bearcats were paced by Iimar’l Thomas and Shanice Johnson with 19 points each. Owens and Nikita Goings scored 13 and 11 points, respectively.
The Bucs have now won four straight season openers with wins over UNC-Asheville twice and at Butler last year. ETSU improved to 30-14 inside Brooks Gym since the start of the 2014-15 campaign.
“The fans helped us get going,” Tarter said. “We had a rough start and they helped us get into the game.”
Next for ETSU is a trip Sunday to play Tennessee at 2 p.m.