“It’s something we’re accustomed to,” Ezell said Tuesday. “We want to challenge our kids and they have responded well.”
ETSU is 6-5 so far and its five losses have been to Tennessee, Notre Dame, Washington State, Houston and Western Michigan.
“Every team that’s beaten us has an RPI of 78 or better,” said Ezell, whose team is listed 138th out of 349 Division I teams in the NCAA’s latest Ratings Percentage Index.
Up next is a game at North Carolina State on Thursday night. Then it’s back home — for just the fourth time this season — to face Michigan State on Saturday night.
“Could we schedule differently and stack a bunch of wins?” Ezell said. “Yes, but when our kids graduate and they can say they played Tennessee, Notre Dame, those kind of teams. We really do our best to try to give our kids and fans the best schedule we can.”
The Michigan State game starts a string of six consecutive home games for ETSU. Nine of the first 12 games on the schedule were away from Brooks Gym, where they are undefeated in three outings.
“The kids have responded well,” Ezell said. “They’ve been road warriors. I don’t know if I’ve had a tougher team. With the schedule we’ve played, the travel, fighting through injuries, being down in numbers, they don’t back down from challenges.
“They’re truly just tough kids. That’s a lot of fun to coach. Toughness is a mental state, an internal thing. We’re being mindful of that in the recruiting process. You find kids that want to be coddled. We’re tying to find kids that are tough.”
Right on track
After the games against N.C. State and Michigan State, the Bucs’ non-conference schedule will end with home games against Northern Kentucky and North Greenville.
“The goal every year in the non-conference schedule is to to be around .500,” Ezell said “Then you’re giving your program an opportunity to have a winning season once conference gets started.”
The Bucs lead the Southern Conference in scoring at 72.8 points per game. They’re also surrendering the most points, 74.2.
ETSU ranks 11th in the country in steals, averaging 11.9 per game. Senior guard Tianna Tarter and freshman guard Erica Haynes-Overton each had 11 steals in a game this season. They now share the school record.
The backcourt duo are 1-2 in the SoCon in steals. Haynes-Overton leads the way at 3.9 per game, ranking sixth nationally, while Tarter averages 3.1.
By the numbers
Tarter leads the team and is third in the SoCon in scoring at 17.2 points per game. She has 1,537 points in her career and has an outside chance at becoming the program’s fourth 2,000-point scorer.
Tarter is seventh in school history on the scoring list and is closing in on her former teammate, Shamauria Bridges, who holds the sixth spot with 1,569 career points.
Haynes-Overton averages 13.8 points per game and is the top scoring freshman in the league.