KNOXVILLE – Not all of the news from the University of Tennessee athletic department Sunday was sad and bad.
Football coach Butch Jones was relieved of his duties earlier in the day, but that didn’t seem to have any negative effect on the Lady Vols as they opened their 2017-18 season in impressive fashion with an 87-49 victory over East Tennessee State University at Thompson-Boling Arena before a crowd of 8,869.
The game was somewhat close early as Alayjah Sherer scored on a layup to give the Lady Buccaneers a 2-0 lead some 18 seconds into the game.
Back-to-back buckets by Raven Dean and Britney Snowden in the third minute gave ETSU a 6-5 lead with 7:25 left in the first quarter.
That’s when the Lady Vols went on a 17-0 run as they kept the Lady Bucs scoreless for the rest of the quarter and the first 51 seconds of the second. By the time Snowden scored again, the difference was 22-8.
The Tennessee lead was 37-16 at intermission.
The only question at that point was just how big the Lady Vol margin of victory.
Tennessee is still trying to find its way with four highly-touted freshmen as the Lady Vols try to build a strong team around returning seniors Mercedes Russell and Jaime Nared.
Tennessee coach Holly Warlick didn’t like the fact that her team had 24 turnovers and she wasn’t crazy about the idea that the Lady Bucs snagged 21 offensive rebounds, but she is feeling good about the progress they’ve made in the first week from the first game to the second.
“We were wanting to get the ball inside, but we had too many turnovers and we gave up too many offensive rebounds to suit me. I thought the freshmen played well together and they’re all producing, but we have to get the ball inside more. That opens up the outside game,” Warlick said afterward.
“We didn’t take East Tennessee lightly as they have a scrappy team. They forced us to make some adjustments, but early games like this help us find out who can help us on down the road. There are so many things we can improve on as nobody played a perfect game. As long as we can learn from it, that’s all I’m concerned about,” Warlick added.
ETSU coach Brittney Ezell knows what it’s like to face the Lady Vols as she was an outstanding player at Alabama before graduating in 1999. Despite the lopsided loss on Sunday, she was really optimistic about her team and the way they played.
“I really love this team as they have a great heart and are willing to work hard every day,” she said after her team evened its record at 1-1 for the season.
“For us to get 21 offensive rebounds against the Lady Vols is almost unheard of, but there’s a lot we can learn from this and there’s a lot we can feel good about. We didn’t have the legs to press like we wanted to after a really physical game on Friday, but we want to be able to compete at the highest level and that’s why I schedule games like this,” the young coach added.
A real turning point for the Lady Bucs took place in the first quarter when standout guard Tianna Tarter suffered a broken nose and had to have six stitches to close a gash. She’s a senior from Johnson City and her absence really hurt her team.
“I feel like she’s one of the best point guards in the country and her getting hurt really hurt us. That forced us to move some people around, but hopefully she’ll be back soon,” Ezell said of her standout.
Russell only had eight points in the first half, but came out strong and scored a dozen more in the third period as the Lady Vols extended that 21 point halftime lead to 67-37 with 10 minutes remaining.
At 6-6 and literally head and shoulders taller than any of ETSU's players, she finished with another double double with 20 points and 10 rebounds as three Lady Vols finished in double figures.
Anastasia Hayes followed with 17 points while Nared was next with 13 points and 13 rebounds to match.
Sherer was the only ETSU player in double figures as she finished with 13 points.
Tennessee won the rebound battle 59-39 after only having a 27-25 edge in the first half. Rennia Davis had eight and Cheridene Green seven for the Lady Vols.
The Lady Vols shot 46.2 percent from the field by hitting 30 of 65 shots and were 21 of 31 from the free throw line for 68 percent.
ETSU warmed up a little in the second half and finished with 19 of 77 from the field for 24.7 percent after being limited to six of 39 in the first half for a frigid 15.4 percent.
The Lady Bucs return to action on Wednesday with a game in Boone, N.C. against Appalachian State while the Lady Vols will be at home again on Wednesday to face James Madison.
EAST TENNESSEE 6 10 21 12 -- 49
TENNESSEE 19 18 30 20 -- 87
ETSU (49) – Dean 2, Snowden 8, Tarter, Haynes-Overton 4, Sherer 13, Craig 6, Schurr 3, Stephney 4, Tipps 2, Copney 7.
TENNESSEE (87) – Davis 6, Nared 13, Russell 20, Westbrook 6, Jackson 9, Hayes 17, Harris 2, Kushkituah 4, Dunbar 3, Green 7.
THREE-POINT SHOTS – ETSU 4-22 for 18.2 percent; Tennessee 6-23 for 26.1 percent
REBOUNDS: ETSU 39 (Dean 5, Snowden 5, Sherer 5); Tennessee 59 (Davis 8, Nared 13, Russell 10, Westbrook 5, Hayes 5, Green 7).
FIELD GOALS: ETSU 19 for 77 for 24.7 percent; Tennessee 30 for 65 for 46.2 percent.
ASSISTS: ETSU 12 (Haynes-Overton 4, Craig 5); Tennessee 16 (Westbrook 6, Nared 3, Hayes 3).
BLOCKS: ETSU 1 (Tipps); Tennessee 12 (Green 3, Kushkituah 3, Westbrook 2).
(email John Hunt at email@example.com)