ETSU women going for first SoCon title

Jeff Birchfield • Updated Mar 3, 2018 at 7:06 PM

East Tennessee State is back in the Southern Conference women's basketball tournament final for the first time since 2015 and the next goal is to win it for the first time ever.

It won't be easy by any means with No. 25 Mercer (29-2) serving as the opponent during the Sunday noon matchup. However, the Bucs (20-11) promise not to be intimidated after trailing the Bears by just nine points in the third quarter during their last meeting a week earlier in Macon, Ga.

While the Bucs ultimately lost 63-48, they came away from the game ready to solve the Mercer puzzle.

"What a lot of people don't know was as soon as we lost the game at Mercer, they asked to watch the DVD on the bus ride home," ETSU coach Brittney Ezell said. "If you've just lost and are riding five hours on a bus, watching tape isn't what you want to do. The players called me to the back of the bus and I watched the tape with them. They were pointing out things on their own and showing such maturity.

"We talked to them about a loss is a loss until you learn the lesson. The lesson is we've got to be really, really good on Sunday."

The last time ETSU reached the final, the Bucs suffered a 61-56 overtime loss to Chattanooga. They are also going for their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2009, when they won the last of three straight Atlantic Sun Conference tournament titles.

Junior forward Raven Dean believes ETSU being swept by Mercer during the regular season, which includes an 85-65 loss in Johnson City, could ultimately help the Bucs’ efforts Sunday.

"Playing them twice and not being successful, we learned a lot," Dean said. "We've watched film to pick out pros and cons and see what we can do to help ourselves individually and as a team. I think we're prepared for it."

In the last game, the ETSU backcourt of Tianna Tarter and Erica Haynes-Overton accounted for 27 points, but the Bucs got only 21 points from the rest of the team. It's no surprise those two would lead the team as Tarter, a senior guard and All-Southern Conference selection, is averaging 18.1 points per game.

Haynes-Overton, named the Southern Conference Freshman of the Year on Tuesday, is averaging 14.5 points per game. The next highest scorers are Britney Snowden (7.5 ppg), Shy Copney (7.0 ppg) and Dean (7.0 ppg).

Mercer is also led by a talented backcourt. Kahlia Lawrence averages 18.8 points per game and KeKe Calloway comes in at 17.1, and they both have around a four-inch size advantage over Tarter and Haynes-Overton.

The rest of the Bears squad is capable of a big night on any occasion as Sydni Means, Amanda Thompson, Rachel Selph and Alex Williams have all scored in double figures at times this season.

"They're phenomenal. They're good, one through seven," Ezell said. "They hit open shots and they play well together. They're led by upperclassmen and they show a lot of poise."

Nevertheless, the Bucs feel they're ready for the challenge and are ready for their shot of making school history.

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