Last season, the Lady Vols struggled against the Bucs in their season opener, only winning by four with a score of 72-68. ETSU was led by Erica Haynes-Overton, who posted a career-high of 41 points and seven steals against the Lady Vols. Tennessee would not have to worry about her this year, however, as she transferred to Kansas.
This season, Tennessee opened up with a better start. The Lady Vols struck first with a basket from freshman Marta Suarez. ETSU battled back to tie the game at 9-9 with three minutes left in the quarter, but the Lady Vols stormed to an 18-11 lead at the end of the first quarter off of a 9-2 run. Tennessee refused to surrender this lead, as they would not trail at any point in the game.
The first-quarter scoring was distributed between six different Lady Vols. However, junior Rae Burrell led the scoring in the quarter with six points. She would go on to continue this hot start, as she finished with a game-leading 20 points on an efficient 7-for-11 shooting from the field along with a rebound, an assist and three steals.
“The difference for her is she is playing with so much confidence right now and making really good decisions, however, she is still playing aggressively. And I think when you’re playing aggressively and making good decisions and you’re finishing how she is it leads to some pretty good play,” Tennessee coach, Kellie Harper, said on Burrell’s performance.
Tennessee extended their lead by three in the second quarter to go into the half with a 38-28 scoreline. The lead ballooned to as much as 16 in the quarter off the back of a 10-2 run, but ETSU refused to surrender. The Bucs finished the half with an 8-2 run of their own, including a buzzer-beater. Jakhyia Davis led the charge for ETSU scoring eight in the quarter. She would finish the game with a team-high 11 points and 6 rebounds.
Burrell also continued to play well in the quarter, scoring eight more points. Keyen Green and Jordan Horston both also added four points in the quarter. Green finished the game with seven points and Horston finished with 12.
The second half was headlined by Rennia Davis. She sat for a majority of the first half due to foul trouble but came back strong scoring 13 of her 15 points in the half. Her first points of the half came just seconds after the break, sparking a 10-point run and extending the lead to 20.
“Just being able to play through that I thought was a growth moment for myself. Just being able to go back out there and be efficient and do whatever my team needed me to do,” Davis said on her early foul trouble.
Davis is now in her senior season after leading the team in points and rebounds per game last season. She is on the John R. Wooden Trophy and Naismith Trophy preseason watch lists heading into this season after impressing last year.
Tennessee led ETSU 55-38 going into the final quarter of play. The Lady Vols held onto the lead even with nine fourth-quarter turnovers. The Bucs would only get as close as 16 with 5:37 left in the game as Tennessee emptied the bench and experimented with new lineups. Harper would play 12 different girls throughout the game.
One noticeable change made by Harper was having Suarez be the primary ball-handler down the stretch. She showed promise and potential at the position, even at her 6-foot-2 height, but the experiment ended in somewhat of a stall of the offense.
“One of the things that I like about this team is the options that we have. We have a little bit more depth. We have people that we can bring in and I think that that’s going to require you to step your game up a little bit,” Harper said on the young players.
Nevertheless, the Lady Vols would go on to close out the game with a 67-50 win over their in-state rivals.
Tennessee will be in action next on Dec. 6 when they travel to West Virginia as a part of the SEC/BIG 12 challenge. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. and the game will be aired on ESPN+.
Edited by Christian Knox and Maddie Torres.
Featured photo courtesy of Lady Vol Basketball Twitter (@LadyVol_Hoops)