As the holidays approached and finals were taken, grades were secured and the campus cleared out. Although the campus was nowhere near as busy as during the semester, students and athletes packed into Brooks Gym six times over the break.
Before this home stretch, the Bucs had mixed results during the preseason and early season action, going 6-6 prior to the Dec. 16 game against Michigan State.
Although the record may not show it, the Bucs showcased the potential to step up their game on both sides of the ball. ETSU proved its defensive worth before the holiday season, totaling double digit steals in multiple games. It is on that side of the ball that the Bucs formed their identity, and that continued throughout the home stretch.
Michigan State would prove to be a formidable test against the ETSU defense, and for the most part, ETSU rose to the challenge. Being one of the better teams in the nation, it’s hard to fully stop the offensive attacks of the Michigan State Spartans.
Both teams were evenly matched when it came to the offensive. However, the most interesting battle was on the defensive sides. The ETSU guards did what they do best, picking pockets and clogging passing lanes.
The two starting guards, Tianna Tarter (Johnson City, Tennessee) and Erica Haynes-Overton (Nashville, Tennessee), each came up with 7 and 5 steals, respectively. The Spartans caused turnovers in a different way; they totaled 15 blocks throughout the night.
This Saturday night battle had a worthy conclusion, coming in overtime after Tarter hit the game tying shot at the buzzer of the fourth quarter. The Bucs would go on to lose in overtime, 83-74.
The next game against the Northern Kentucky Norse, ETSU didn’t shoot the ball well, yet their strong defense gave them an 11 point lead going into the half.
There was a “lack of focus, and a lack of respect,” said Head Coach Ezell of the second half, where the Bucs ultimately came up short 57-45.
Following the holiday break, ETSU had four more home games, three of which coming against SoCon opponents. The first game can only be defined as a blowout, with stellar play from the entire team gave them a 90-67 win over North Greenville. Led by the Tarter, Haynes-Overton duo in the backcourt, the top notch defense and hot shooting continued through the next three games.
ETSU held the lead from start to finish against Western Carolina in their first game of the New Year. The Bucs cooled off a little against UNC-Greensboro, but the bench stepped up and outscored the Spartans bench 25-15, led by Shy Copney’s (Johnson City, Tennessee) 16 points. Finally, the Bucs ended a 10-game losing streak against the UTC Mocs to remain undefeated in the SoCon.
ETSU is only one of two undefeated teams, tied in the rankings with Mercer, whom they play on Jan. 25 at home. ETSU beat Furman and Wofford last week.