Toughness. Toughness has been what the Bucs have built their identity around. You have to have toughness to compete against some of the top ranked teams in the nation. You have to have toughness to win your first five games in the conference. Most importantly, you have to have toughness when it matters most: at the end of close games.
The Bucs had a chance to show just how tough they are on Saturday. They had already won five games in a row, beginning conference play with a hot start. However, the Wofford Terriers would not go down without a fight.
The first half was a battle with both teams playing aggressive defense. The Terriers held a narrow advantage at the end of the second quarter with a score of 26 to 25. ETSU came out strong following the break and captured the lead and didn’t give it up.
What separates good teams from the great ones is the ability to finish games, and Wofford looked ready to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The score was 57 to 56, with ETSU up one with a minute left in regulation. Junior forward Sadasia Tipps (Hickory, North Carolina) delivered a block but Wofford came up with the offensive board. In the confusion, a quick foul sent the Terriers to the line with a chance to take the lead. The first free throw went up: miss. The next shot followed: another miss.
With under 40 seconds to go, Wofford had no choice but to foul. They sent Tianna Tarter (Johnson City, Tennessee), a career 75 percent free throw shooter, to the line. Cool, calm, and collected, Tarter sunk both free throws to give ETSU the three point lead, and keep them in the driver’s seat.
The Wofford Terriers weren’t lying down yet, however. A quick layup brought the lead back down to one, and a fast foul on the defensive end sent Tarter back to the line with eight seconds to go. Coming through in the clutch, Tarter converted two more layups, making the score 61 to 58.
Toughness comes on both the defensive and offensive ends, though. With one last chance to send the game into overtime, Wofford ran an in-bounds play to set up for a three point shot. Shortly after the ball left the hands of Wofford guard Jamari McDavid (Springfield, Ohio), Britney Snowden (Pensacola, Florida) swooped in to send the ball back down and into the hands of her teammate. The buzzer sounded and ETSU remained undefeated in the conference.
Head Coach Brittney Ezell said, “We did enough things down the stretch that I thought showed a lot of toughness. We kept talking to our kids that toughness is in the mind and in the heart. It’s not in the muscle and we showed a lot of mental toughness today.”
The Bucs will need just as much toughness if not more when they face the only other undefeated team: the Mercer Bears. This showdown for the number one seed comes Thursday night at 7 p.m. in Brooks Gym.