JOHNSON CITY — The Lady Vols staved off a tenacious ETSU squad on Tuesday night, opening the Kellie Harper era with a gritty 72-68 win in front of a crowd of 5,881 at Freedom Hall in Johnson City, Tenn.
Tennessee (1-0) was paced by junior Rennia Davis and freshman Tamari Key who each notched double-doubles. Davis ended the evening with 13 points and 10 rebounds, while Key recorded 11 points and 12 rebounds. Sophomore Zaay Green led UT in scoring with 17 points.
ETSU (0-1) was led by Erica Haynes-Overton who poured in a commanding 41 points while pulling down 10 boards and snagging seven steals. E’Lease Stafford was also in doubles figures for the Bucs with 13.
Redshirt junior Jaiden McCoy got things started for the Lady Vols, posting up and spinning for a layup from the left block to score the first official points of her Tennessee career less than a minute into the season opener. UT then hit a scoring slump, going nearly four minutes without a bucket while ETSU jumped out to a 7-2 lead.
Freshman Jordan Horston broke the drought, driving the full length of the floor to lay the ball in for two points. Redshirt senior Lou Brown and freshman Tamari Key would combine for six unanswered points to tie the game at 10-all with three minutes left in the quarter before Horston struck again to reclaim the lead for UT at 12-10. Tennessee went on to take a 19-15 lead into the second stanza.
The teams traded baskets through the first three and a half minutes of the second quarter before Green scored six straight points to fuel an 11-4 run that put UT up 34-24 with just under three and a half minutes remaining in the half. Micah Sheetz answered with a long-range three for Bucs, but UT kept the pressure on and took a 40-30 lead into the break.
Green struck first in the second half, draining a three to put UT up 43-30 a minute into the quarter. E’Lease Stafford answered a minute and a half later, cutting Tennessee’s lead to eight at 45-37. Both teams picked up the pace on offense as the quarter progressed, but Tennessee outpaced the Buccaneers, outscoring them 16-13 to close out the third with a 61-50 lead.
With just under seven minutes remaining in the game, Haynes-Overton sank a three then followed it up with a steal and layup to cut UT’s lead to single digits at 63-56. Davis answered with a three of her own to put the Lady Vols back up by 10 with just over five minutes remaining. The Bucs rallied back though, cutting the lead to three off the handiwork of Overton-Hayes and Stafford with just over a minute to play. Overton-Haynes then converted on one of two free-throws to further shrink the deficit to two with 34.1 seconds remaining. Green responded by knocking down back-to-back free throws on the other end to extend UT’s lead to 70-66 with 26.9 to play. Haynes-Overton again answered, knocking down a 10-foot jumper on the baseline, but Davis and Burrell each hit free throws to put the game out of reach, and UT went on to win 72-68.
The Lady Vols have a quick turnaround, returning home to host Central Arkansas on Thursday at 7 p.m. That game features UT’s Knox County Schools night, and fans donating two school supply items will receive a complimentary ticket. Fans can also tune in online on SECN+.