ETSU Claims First Conference Championship
Nichelle Akers and the Lady Bucs are going to their first NCAA Tournament. <I>Image courtesy of ASunPhotos.com.</I>
Nichelle Akers and the Lady Bucs are going to their first NCAA Tournament. Image courtesy of ASunPhotos.com.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The East Tennessee State Lady Buccaneers held off a furious second half comeback from the Jacksonville Dolphins to capture their first General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Conference Championship, 75-72. ETSU will represent the A-Sun with their first-ever bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Trailing by 14 with just over five minutes remaining in the game, the Dolphins went on a 15-2 run, capped off by a three-pointer from Courtney Jackson with 2:19 remaining. Jackson's shot pulled the Dolphins to within one, 68-67. The teams traded baskets the next few possessions, until ETSU’s Siarre Evans was fouled with 11 seconds remaining and the Lady Bucs clinging to a 74-72 lead. Evans made one of two free throws to give ETSU a 75-72 lead. On the final possession, the Dolphins failed to get a shot off, as Latisha Belcher stole the ball away with only one second left on the clock.

Belcher was awarded the tournament's Most Valuable Player award after posting career highs in points and field goals, as she poured in 24 points on 9-of-12 shooting. The sophomore also pulled down eight rebounds and was true on 6-of-7 attempts from the charity stripe. She was followed in the scoring column by Siarre Evans and Kelly Turman, who had 12 and 11 points, respectively. TaRonda Wiles ended the game with nine points and nine boards. Both Wiles and Evans were named to the All-Tournament team, along with teammate Michelle Devault to give four Lady Bucs the distinction.

The second-seeded Dolphins found themselves in a hole early, falling behind by 17 at one point in the first half and taking a 40-24 deficit into the locker room at halftime. The Dolphins recovered by outscoring the Lady Bucs 48-35 in the second half to give themselves a chance in the final seconds.

All-Tournament selection Ashley Williams led the charge for the Dolphins, scoring 14 of her team-high 21 in the final frame. She also grabbed seven rebounds and dished out four assists. Courtney Jackson fueled the Dolphins’ fire from long distance, going 3-of-6 from deep and finishing the contest with 15 points. Virginia Gregoire added 14 points and Regina Omoite had a game-high seven assists. Davina Hamilton joined Williams on the All-Tournament team, contributing four points before fouling out with 5:32 remaining.

Jacksonville (23-9) ends their season after setting a school record for wins in a season and recording back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time in school history. ETSU (21-11) will continue their season in the NCAA Tournament, avenging last year's A-Sun Championship Final loss to Belmont and becoming the first No. 1 seed to defeat a No. 2 seed in the women's tournament since Georgia State in 2002.