By Zack Kirby
ASHEVILLE, N.C. –Despite losing a 24-point lead in the second half, the Chattanooga women’s basketball team managed to squeak past East Tennessee State 61-56 for the Southern Conference Tournament championship.
“We have had stretches where we don’t play very well offensively,” head coach Jim Foster said. “We stop moving the ball. We get isolations and don’t take advantage of what they are giving us. I’ve said all along, what allows us to escape those moments is that our defense doesn’t let teams get away from us. In this case, they caught us, but the integrity of our defense held up, and we played a great overtime.”
Chattanooga opened with back-to-back three pointers from sophomore Chelsey Shumpert, Paducah, Ky., but the Buccaneers led until the 8:15 mark in the first half, when UTC took a 17-15 lead.
It looked like the Mocs would cruise to a conference title when they were up 36-19 at halftime, and then opened on a 7-0 run to increase their lead to 24 points.
After two consecutive buckets by ETSU’s Destiny Mitchell, the Bucs took complete control of the game for the final 10 minutes, which included a 24-6 run.
With 25 seconds to go and possession of the ball, ETSU forced a shot clock violation on the Mocs and called timeout to have the final shot.
As the seconds ticked down, a missed shot rebounded for a put back layup by ETSU tied the score 51-51.
Even though they were outplayed in the final 10 minutes of regulation, the Mocs opened overtime with a corner 3-pointer from Shumpert that sparked a 7-0 run to eventually hold on for the 5-point win.
Shumpert carried the team on her back in the game and finished with a game-high of 26 points to help her team win their 16th Southern Conference Tournament crown.
Other Mocs who contributed were freshman Keiana Gilbert, Columbia, Tenn., and senior Ka’Vonne Towns, Lilburn, Ga., with nine points.
ETSU’s leading contributors were Mitchell, who scored 19, Shamauria Bridges with 12 and Serena Clark with nine points, 11 rebounds and five blocks.
Sophomore Jasmine Joyner, Southaven, Miss., earned Most Outstanding Player for the tournament, along with First Team All-SoCon honors with Shumpert.
Junior Alicia Payne, Memphis, and Towns were named Second Team All-SoCon for the tournament.
The win gives UTC an automatic NCAA tournament bid and they still hold their No. 17 national ranking.
“I felt strongly that we were in regardless,” Foster said. “I think that would have been a first for this conference, but I think we forced them to give us a good seed. I think we deserve a good seed. We won a league that was a little bit tougher this year. There are new teams, better teams, with five teams over .500. ETSU has been the second-best team in this league. We played a great first half and they played a great second half, but we got our act together in the overtime. I think our defense stayed solid.”