The ETSU women’s basketball team finished last season with a 16-13 record, enough to earn them the No. 4 seed in the SoCon tournament, but they were quickly sent packing by the No. 5 seed Furman.
This year Head Coach Brittney Ezell has said she wishes to give the team the best Division 1 experience possible, even if it means some tough losses. This season is proving to do just that with a brutal early season schedule. Already this season, ETSU has faced two ranked opponents: Tennessee and Notre Dame.
Only the second game into the season, the Bucs traveled to Thompson-Boling arena in Knoxville to face the Volunteers. The Bucs were coming off a win against the Cincinnati Bearcats. The Bearcats out-rebounded the Bucs 42-26, and ETSU also shot over 30 shots from behind the arc, the most in a game so far this season.
The Bucs suffered a lopsided 87-49 loss. The bigger stage may have had an effect, as the Bucs shooting percentages were low. They shot under 25 percent from the floor, and under 19 percent from the 3-point line. They shot around 58 percent from the free throw line, which is shocking for a team that rarely dips below the 70 percent mark.
Not to be discouraged by the loss, ETSU bounced back to three straight wins and looked toward the next battle with a ranked opponent, which came after Thanksgiving against Notre Dame.
The team went into the Gulf Coast Showcase knowing it would be a tough battle against the Fighting Irish, a team that is now ranked No. 3 in the nation.
However, Ezell was looking for more improvement and growth than victories, and it looks like she got it. On paper, the game finished as a blowout, 77-46, but the stats tell a bigger story.
Similar to the Tennessee game, the Bucs had a hard time finding their shot against tougher opponents. Their field goal percentage was under 30, and they shot 4-22 from 3-point range.
These early season losses provide some good signs about the identity the Bucs are building.
The Bucs are good at defending the 3-point shot. They held the Vols to 26 percent from the 3-point, and forced Notre Dame into 14 misses out of their 15 shots from beyond the arc.
The Bucs inside presence was far weaker against Notre Dame, and the Fighting Irish grabbed almost as many offensive rebounds as the Bucs had defensive.
The Bucs do a good job of slowing down the pace of the game. They held a Vols squad that has surpassed 30 fast break points twice in their six games to only 6.
The Bucs continue their road trip with four more games before coming back home to face the Michigan State Spartans. With a team of only three seniors and some time to develop, expect this young Bucs team to continue to improve and become more competitive as the season continues.