ETSU women look to finish strong

Jeff Birchfield • Updated Feb 21, 2018 at 6:23 PM

The East Tennessee State women's basketball team has been one of the hottest teams in the country in 2018 with 11 wins in the last 13 games.

They've wrapped up at least at second place in Southern Conference and a NIT postseason bid unless someone other than themselves or Mercer win the league tournament. However, there is more business to attend to as the Bucs (17-10, 10-2) finish up the regular season with road games at Samford (14-13, 6-6) on Thursday night and Mercer on Sunday.

"We're really happy with where we are right now," ETSU coach Brittney Ezell said. "But, we have a chance to move up if some cards fall the right way. We're one game away from being in a position to at least share the title."

Ezell is also just a win away from notching her 200th career win.

This season's success has come with the strong play from the backcourt.

Freshman Erica Haynes-Overton was named Southern Conference Player of the Week on Tuesday for the second time this season. She averaged 16 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.5 steals per game and Ezell feels she would be the league's Freshman of the Year.

Senior Tianna Tarter has also been a two-time Player of the Week, but Ezell argues the team's leader with 17.7 points and 4.4 assists per game should be recognized even more at the end of the year.

"What's she done this year, she's diversified her game," Ezell said. "She's rebounded the ball, she's gotten in passing lanes, she's right behind Erica in steals. She is overall the best player in the league. I hope the other coaches recognize it and all that she does for our team. I don't think anyone in our conference wants to go against that backcourt."

Certainly, Samford isn't looking forward to it after Tarter torched them for 33 points in a 76-48 ETSU win back on Jan. 27.

It has been a remarkable season from the standpoint the Bucs have just 10 players on the roster and not all have been healthy other than the season-opening win over Cincinnati. Barring any more injuries, they should finally be at full strength later this week with freshman Anajae Stepheny expected to return.

"We've been at nine or eight players every night," Ezell said. "We could have blamed losses on this or this, but we've never done that. We tell them all the time who you've got is enough. We're been working on a mantra of quality over quantity, although we're getting healthy at the right time."

The challenges have come against perhaps the toughest schedule in ETSU history with seven of the losses coming against Notre Dame, Tennessee, NC State, Houston, Washington State, Western Michigan and Michigan State.

"When we played them, Notre Dame was No. 5, Tennessee was No. 14, N.C. State was No. 23," Ezell said. "In our league, Mercer is now No. 25 and Chattanooga has six BCS wins. I couldn't have prepared them any better with our non-conference schedule and our kids couldn't have answered the bell any better than they have. Our job as a coaching staff is to present them opportunities to get better and they did that."

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