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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. – Despite early shooting struggles from the floor, the USC Upstate women's basketball team (12-17, 8-10 A-Sun) erased a 12-point deficit in the first half to claim a 60-56 victory at ETSU (8-17, 6-12 A-Sun) in Atlantic Sun Conference action Saturday afternoon for the program's first win inside MSHA Athletics Center.
With the win, Upstate secures either the No. 4 or No. 5 seed in the A-Sun Championship next week. The seeding will be determined after the North Florida and Lipscomb game and the Jacksonville and Northern Kentucky contest Saturday evening. If JU wins, the Spartans will take the No. 5 seed into the tournament, but if the Dolphins lose and UNF wins, Upstate claims the No. 4 seed. The No. 4 and No. 5 seed teams will square off on Thursday, March 7 in the A-Sun Tournament hosted by Mercer University in Macon, Ga.
The Spartans were 4-for-27 from the floor in the opening half for a 14.8 field goal percentage. However, Upstate made up for it at the line, going 13-for-16 for 81.3 percent. After trailing by as many as 12-points (22-10) with 6:38 left until halftime, the Spartans used strong defense and managed to trim the ETSU lead to 26-21 at intermission.
Upstate opened the second half firing on all cylinders, using a 7-0 run to take a 28-26 lead with 18:36 to go. In the first three minutes of the second stanza, freshman Brittany Starling accounted for seven of the Spartans' first nine points, more than doubling her point total from the first half, which was six.
The two teams exchanged points for the majority of the second period, keeping the contest relatively close. Upstate pushed its lead to five with 6:28 to play after sophomore Shelby Hicks netted a pair at the charity stripe, giving the Spartans their largest lead of the game up to that point.
However, the Buccaneers answered back, chipping away at the Spartan advantage and pulling within one (51-50) with just under three minutes left in the game. Upstate responded with jumpers from Hicks and Copney and a free throw from Copney to push the score to 56-50 with 1:09 to go. ETSU cut that to 56-53 off of a layup from Shawn Randall and a pair of freebies from Tiana Burley.
With 22 seconds left on the clock, the Bucs were forced to foul and sent Copney to the line for two shots. She netted both, putting Upstate up by four. With 9.5 seconds to go, ETSU's Destiny Mitchell made a layup and put the score at 58-56. After the made basket, the Bucs were whistled for a flagrant foul, giving Upstate the chance to ice the game at the line along with the possession. Senior Lauren McRoberts stepped in to shoot the free throws for Starling and made both, putting the Spartans ahead 60-56.
The Spartans turned the ball over on the inbounds as ETSU's Tosha Austin collected the steal with six seconds to go. The Bucs threw up a three-pointer that didn't fall and Upstate senior Hannah Ohl grabbed the defensive board as the remaining seconds ticked off the clock and the Spartans claimed the four-point victory.
On the day, the Spartans were led by Starling and Copney with 15 points each. Copney was 5-for-9 from the floor and 4-for-5 from the charity stripe, while Starling went 7-for-12 from the line. Hicks added nine points, while senior Tyra Smith posted six.
Smith paced Upstate on the boards, snagging a career-high 10 rebounds, while Starling was second on the team with eight boards. Copney and McRoberts each pulled down seven rebounds, while McRoberts also recorded five points, all from the line. Smith handed out a game-high five assists, while Copney dished out two.
ETSU was led by Burley with 12 points, including eight in the first half. Randall posted nine points to go along with a team-best 11 boards. Serena Clark added eight points for the Bucs, while Mitchell collected eight rebounds.
On the day, Upstate's second half shooting improved its overall field goal percentage to 35.3 percent. The Spartans were 11.1 percent from long distance, connecting on 1-of-9. At the line, Upstate shot 69.7 percent (23-33). ETSU shot 28.8 percent from the floor (19-66) and 13.6 percent from behind the arc (3-22). The Bucs were better at the charity stripe, connecting on 15-of-21 attempts for a 71.4 free throw percentage.
The Spartans return to action Thursday, March 7 in the A-Sun Championship with their opponent still to be determined. Follow Upstate women's basketball this season on your mobile device, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.