Then the third quarter did the Bucs in.
UNC Greensboro completed a three-game sweep of ETSU with a 57-47 victory Thursday night at Harrah’s Cherokee Center, and the Spartans did it by breaking open a close game right after halftime.
Third-seeded UNCG outscored ETSU 24-10 in the third quarter and improved to 22-8. The Spartans will take on seventh-seeded Mercer in Friday’s semifinals. Mercer upset No. 2 Chattanooga 63-55 earlier Thursday.
The sixth-seeded Bucs finished 9-21, their second consecutive 21-loss season.
“I said this in a press conference about two weeks ago. … You better kick me now because you’re not going to have much chance after this,” said ETSU coach Brittney Ezell, whose team had to endure the transfer of its best player and numerous injuries throughout the season. “Because I assure that group right there that had to endure this, it’s not going to happen again.”
Cierrah Perdue scored in the final minute of the first half and the Bucs went into the locker room up 25-23 at halftime.
The ETSU momentum did not last.
Alexis Pitchford drove the lane and scored easily on UNCG’s first possession of the second half. That tied the game and started a 16-3 run that allowed the Spartans to start pulling away.
Suddenly, UNCG was up 39-28 as the Bucs went cold, missing 6 of their first 7 shots in the third quarter.
“Shots didn’t go,” Ezell said. “I thought we put them in a good position to score. Sometimes the ball just won’t go in.”
The Spartans eventually led 47-31. ETSU never got closer than eight points the rest of the way.
UNCG coach Trina Patterson said she wrote one word — “Bugatti” — on the board in the locker room at halftime.
“They’re the fastest cars and we like to play fast, but we were not playing like a Bugatti in the first two quarters,” Patterson said. “So we talked about our pace. We want to play fast. We pushed the ball. We shared the ball and we moved players.
“Our team is the type of team that welcomes challenges and welcomes adversity. It’s been these close, tight games all year for us. Nothing is easy and we’re OK when it’s not easy.”
The Bucs shot 28% from the field and their two top scorers were the coldest. E’Lease Stafford led ETSU with 13 points, but she shot 5 for 18. Micah Scheetz had 11 points, but went 3 for 15.
“If you had told me that E’Lease and Micah would have combined to go 8 for 33, I would have said you’re a liar,” Ezell said. “Today was just one of those days. It’s never been that way for them. They’re two of the most productive kids. They’re gym rats. You try to tell kids hard work pays off. Well it didn’t today and as a coach that pisses you off.
“Micah even stepped forward and apologized to the team. She owes nobody an apology. None of my kids owe anybody an apology. They gave great effort. It doesn’t change my opinion. Micah Scheetz is the best shooter in the league. E’Lease Stafford is going to be the player of the year in the league within the next two years. Make sure you record that because I said it.”
It was the final game for the four seniors on ETSU’s roster, Jada Craig, Taisha Murphy, Arielle Harvey and Anajae Stephney.
Aja Boyd led the Spartans with 20 points. Nadine Soliman, the SoCon’s player of the year, had 10 points and 11 rebounds.