ASHEVILLE, N.C. — So far, so good for the East Tennessee State women’s basketball team.
The Bucs won their opener at the Southern Conference tournament, getting 20 points and 10 rebounds from Jakhyia Davis in a 63-47 quarterfinal victory over Samford on Thursday night at Harrah’s Cherokee Center.
Third-seeded ETSU (23-8) equaled the school record for victories in a season and will take on No. 2 Chattanooga in Friday’s 1:15 p.m. semifinal.
Chattanooga (18-12) beat Furman 63-52 in the quarterfinals. No. 1 Wofford and No. 4 UNC Greensboro will meet in the other semifinal. The championship game is set for Sunday at noon.
“I just couldn’t be prouder of our kids beating a tough, credible opponent,” said ETSU coach Brenda Mock Brown, the SoCon’s coach of the year.
The Bucs, with four sophomores in the starting lineup, got all 63 of their points from four players. Jiselle Thomas had 18 points and five assists, while Kendall Folley added 17 points.
“We were ready for this moment,” Folley said. “We’ve kind of shown up every single day just to work hard. I would say this isn’t pressure. We showed up like we’re ready and bring it on.”
Nevaeh Brown was the only other ETSU player to score, with eight points, but it was her defense that helped secure the victory.
Samford’s Andrea Bailey, the league’s player of the year, finished with five points and was hounded by Brown all night. Bailey was 1 for 13 from the field and missed all seven of her 3-pointers in her final collegiate game. She came in averaging a SoCon-best 17.7 points per game.
“Andrea has had a tremendous career, but that goes to Nevaeh Brown,” said Brown, the Bucs’ coach. “Nevaeh Brown is an incredible defender. We put her on all kinds of players. She’s the most versatile defender we have.”
Sissy Ngulefac led Samford (13-17) with 16 points but in the end, the Bulldogs’ tough center was outplayed by Davis. The Bucs’ sophomore center made 9 of 13 shots and was a big reason ETSU outrebounded Samford 42-24.
“We came into this tournament thinking we could win the whole thing,” said Samford coach Carley Kuhns, whose team lost its last six games of the season. “Rebounding obviously killed us.”
The Bucs led 28-24 at halftime and began to pull away in the third quarter. They never gave up the lead in the second half and led by as many as 17 points late.
“This is the first time a lot of us have got to play in the SoCon tournament,” said Thomas, who connected on 8 of 14 shots and made the Bucs’ only two free throw attempts. “I think we just came in knowing that we needed to trust each other and have patience. We were really locked in on each other.”
Chattanooga was the only team to sweep ETSU during the regular season.
“Chatt’s a really good team, probably the best defensive team in the league,” Brown said. “We’ve got to get a lot done in a short amount of time to get ready for them.”