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Stafford fires up 29, ETSU women beat Western Carolina for 55th time

Jeff Birchfield • Feb 7, 2020 at 12:50 AM

JOHNSON CITY — E’Lease Stafford and the rest of the East Tennessee State women’s basketball team sprinted out of the gates Thursday night to continue their dominance of Western Carolina.

Stafford scored a career-high 29 points in a 76-49 Southern Conference romp over the Catamounts at Brooks Gym. The Bucs scored the first 12 points of the game and led by double digits the rest of the way.

ETSU (8-15, 3-5) has won 13 straight against Western (4-19, 1-7) to hold a 55-22 lead in the all-time series. The wins are the most against any single ETSU opponent.

“It was a great start and that was important,” Bucs coach Brittney Ezell said. “The first quarter and third quarter set the tone for the game. We scored 28 in the first quarter and 20 in the third. That was our biggest offensive output of the year with only seven healthy players. If I could bottle it, I would.

“Hopefully, we will come out the same way Saturday.”

Stafford, a 6-foot sophomore, scored 13 of her team’s first 22 points. She produced throughout the game, knocking down back-to-back 3-point shots in the fourth quarter. She went 6-for-10 from 3-point range and surpassed her previous high of 23 points against Furman.

Stafford scored a total of 18 points in her freshman season.

“It felt good because of all the hard work I did over the summer by myself and with my dad — and the team is starting to pay off,” Stafford said. “Coach said don’t think because I play better when everything doesn’t get in my head. When I don’t think, I play freely and if I miss my team tells me to keep shooting. I just kept shooting and it felt good.”

Shynia Jackson came on strong to finish with 18 points and 15 rebounds, making 11 of 12 attempts from the free-throw line. Micah Scheetz added 13 points and point guard Kaia Upton had eight points and nine assists.

The Bucs held a 38-29 rebounding advantage.

“We really focused on crashing the boards,” Jackson said. “Last time, they outrebounded us and we took it personal. We were constantly attacking the basket and crashing the boards.”

ETSU led 28-8 at the end of one quarter, 45-27 at the half and 65-43 heading into the final 10 minutes.

Leading all but the first 16 seconds before the first basket, the Bucs stayed aggressive throughout the evening. They had 23 free-throw attempts to 10 for Western and a 16-3 advantage in second-chance points. ETSU made the most of its chances, hitting 20 of 23 free throws.

Lauren LaPlant, with 14 points, was the only WCU player in double figures.

“For the longest time, we were in the top five in the country in free-throw attempts,” Ezell said. “We’ve got to get back to that and our attacking style of playing downhill. The way we run our motion (offense) gives a lot of opportunities to go to the free-throw line.

“We told our kids to keep their feet on the gas and let me be the one to pull the emergency brake. They did a good job of playing full throttle the whole night.”

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ETSU hosts UNC Greensboro on Saturday at 2 p.m.

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