ETSU trailed Tennessee by just eight points with four minutes to go in the third quarter before the No. 9 Lady Vols pulled away for an 80-61 win at Thompson-Boling Arena.
“Playing the Lady Vols is an opportunity that every little girl who grew up in this region dreams of,” Ezell said. “It’s my job to provide that and their job to play with the effort and energy. They did such a great job. If we just hit a few more free throws (the Bucs were 5-of-20) and play better transition defense ...
“I’m not into moral victories, but I’m thrilled with our effort. I’m the biggest cheerleader our team has. Tonight, they really got me going.”
Meme Jackson led the Lady Vols (9-1) with 23 points, 21 from 3-point range; her seven treys were one off the school record. Tennessee also had double-digit efforts from Cheridene Green (12 points), Mimi Collins (11) and Rennia Davis (11), the latter of whom also had seven rebounds.
Micah Scheetz, who played her high school ball at Webb in Knoxville, paced the Bucs (2-13) with a career-high 15 points. Carley Lytton and Erica Haynes-Overton each finished with 11 and Lexus Spears added eight on 4-of-6 shooting.
“It was really fun to be out there. Like coach said, it’s every girl’s dream around here to play against the Lady Vols,” Scheetz said. “I’m so proud how we competed. We played really well, probably the best we’ve played in several games — and I’m proud of that.”
ETSU trailed 38-28 at the half and 48-40 with less than five minutes to go in the third quarter. The Bucs then went through a cold stretch of 10 straight missed shots and the Lady Vols scored 10 unanswered points, eventually leading 62-44 heading into the final quarter.
Tennessee, which bounced back from a loss to No. 8 Stanford three days earlier, shared the basketball to the tune of 20 assists, nine by Evina Westbrook.
“We talked a lot about spreading the floor and taking great shots,” Lady Vols coach Holly Warlick said. “We talked about taking the pull-up jumper and taking the extra pass. This group is really good at doing what you ask them to do and I thought tonight they did that.”
The Bucs outscored the Lady Vols 25-23 off the bench, had 10 steals and forced 21 turnovers.
Lytton feels like playing teams such as Michigan State, Rutgers, South Carolina and Tennessee is getting them ready for the Southern Conference schedule.
“This is preparing us for conference,” she said. “We’re taking these good teams and seeing how we play and our growth within. All these tough games will make us better.”