ETSU ready for showdown with Chattanooga

Jeff Birchfield • Jan 11, 2018 at 6:27 PM

The East Tennessee State and Chattanooga rivalry will be taken to another level on Friday night as the teams battle in an early Southern Conference showdown.

ETSU comes in with a 9-8 overall record and 2-0 mark in league play. The Mocs are also 2-0 in the conference, but have a better overall mark of 11-5. Both teams are tied with Mercer atop the league standings and both enter on three-game winning streaks.

“It’s real early in the conference schedule to put a whole lot of magnitude on it, but we’re both 2-0 and it’s a rivalry game,” Ezell said. “It’s our only game of the week and it carries some weight with our fans, our team and I’m sure it carries weight for them as well.”

Defensive specialist Jasmine Joyner has graduated after 436 career blocks, eighth on the NCAA all-time list, but the Mocs still have the tandem of Aryanna Gilbert and her sister, Keiana. Aryanna Gilbert leads Chattanooga with 14 points per game, while Keiana Gilbert is second on the team at 13.1 points.

Lakelyn Bouldin is the only other player averaging double figures at 12.8 points per game, but it’s deceiving with the Mocs averaging just 57.9 points as a team, while holding their opponents to 55.4 points per game.

It’s a huge contrast in styles with Chattanooga looking to slow the game down. The Bucs have over 11 more shot attempts per game than the Mocs, although Ezell noted their defensive efforts.

“They don’t foul and only foul like 12 times a game,” Ezell said. “They really make you work. Their stuff is so different from ours. They’re slow and methodical, and want to keep the game low scoring. We want to amp it up and make you play more chaotic. We play fast, so it’s a tough contrast in styles to prep for.”

The Mocs must account for ETSU’s backcourt of senior Tianna Tarter and freshman Erica Haynes-Overton. Tarter currently ranks fourth in the Southern Conference at 16.5 points per game, while Haynes-Overton is averaging 13.6 points. The freshman had a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds in ETSU’s 60-52 win over UNC-Greensboro last Saturday.

“Having Tianna helps her with the maturation process,” Ezell said about Haynes-Overton. “I’ve been pleased watching her grow from game to game with the nuances that the casual fan may not pick up on. She’s engaged more verbally with her teammates and she’s in the right position rebounding — and she’s understanding our offense more and where her scoring opportunities come from.”

Both teams have faced tough non-conference schedules with Chattanooga beating Big 10 schools Indiana and Northwestern, and SEC schools Florida and Auburn. ETSU beat Cincinnati in the season opener and have faced other teams like Notre Dame, Michigan State, North Carolina State and Tennessee.

“I don’t think our kids will ever be intimidated after the schedule they’ve played and against the styles they’ve played,” Ezell said. “We’re going to put an exciting product on the floor with how we play and the opponents we bring in. That’s how we grow our program to stretch it outside our comfort zone.”

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