MACON, Ga. — Destiny Mitchell was ready to carry the East Tennessee State women’s basketball team in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament.
Her teammates didn’t come along for the ride.
Mitchell returned to form Wednesday, overcoming a nagging knee injury to score 23 points, but it wasn’t enough as the seventh-seeded Lady Bucs fell 66-55 to No. 2 Stetson at Hawkins Arena.
“I will say about my young ladies, I felt like they played hard,” ETSU coach Karen Kemp said. “I was really proud of the effort. I’m really proud of Destiny because she’s been pretty much injured all year. But she had that look in her eyes. We knew Destiny was gonna come out ready to play.”
Stetson (22-8) advanced to Friday’s semifinal, where it will face the winner of today’s quarterfinal matchup between Mercer and Jacksonville.
Mitchell scored 15 of the Lady Bucs’ first 25 points, making 7 of her first 9 shots. From the start, the junior forward seemed determined to get to the basket when she received the ball in the paint as she drove to score ETSU’s first two hoops. She even made a 3-pointer for only the third time all season.
The ETSU guards didn’t seem to notice how hot Mitchell was. They continued to launch long-range shots, many times without even a glance inside toward their most efficient scorer. The three guards, Cara Bowling, Shawn Randall and Brianna McQueen, combined to miss 11 of their first 12 shots.
“We did take some bad shots,” Kemp said. “But I thought we had some good looks from the perimeter in the first half. They just weren’t going in.”
That didn’t stop them from shooting. The trio, none of whom shot better than 33 percent from the field in the regular season, finished a combined 5 for 29 while Mitchell was 9 for 16.
Stetson was led by Shanasha Sanders and Sasha Sims with 18 points each. Victoria McGowan added 17.
“It’s about time,” Stetson coach Lynn Bria said. “Usually it’s one of them, two of them. I’ve waited three years and finally, they all played well in the same game. I don’t know why they waited so long but I’m thankful it was today because we needed it.”
The Lady Bucs, who finished 8-18 for their second season in a row with eight wins, led 29-28 at halftime. They began the second half missing 13 of their first 16 shots and Stetson used a 12-0 run to turn a 33-32 ETSU lead into a 44-33 deficit.
The Hatters eventually increased their lead to 56-42 with 3:52 left before ETSU cut it to 58-53 on a 3-pointer by Bowling with 1:16 remaining, but that was as close as the Lady Bucs could get.
ETSU shot 31 percent after a 22-percent second half and out-rebounded the Hatters 41-35. Stetson made 44 percent of its shots.
“If you don’t win them all, you’re not going any farther,” said Kemp, whose team won three A-Sun championships in a row from 2007-2010 but has lost its last three tournament games. “That was our focus in practice, and they believed. Every day when they came into practice, that’s what I would ask ‘Do you believe?’ And everybody was on board.”
The Lady Bucs were playing without center Tiana Burley, who was serving a one-game suspension after being ejected for punching an opponent in the team’s regular-season finale.
Mitchell had been slowed by a knee injury in recent weeks. It was the first time in seven games that she scored in double figures. She had been a two-time all-conference selection before not receiving any recognition this season when her scoring average dipped to 11.0 after seasons of 14.5 and 12.2.
“I knew I had to play hard knowing we didn’t have Tiana today,” Mitchell said. “I knew whether I was in pain or not I had to play hard and help my team out. It felt OK the first half, but then it started hurting a little bit. But it was OK.”
Maria Bond finished with 11 points for ETSU. Bowling missed her first 10 shots before finishing 2 for 15. Randall was 3 for 10.
It was the final game for ETSU senior center Tosha Austin, who went scoreless in 17 minutes.
“Everybody will be back except one,” Kemp said. “I told them, this spring we’ll have to buckle down and get to work so this time next year there will be a different outcome.”