The Lady Vols, led by 28 points by Diamond DeShields, stayed perfect on the young season with an 83-58 win in Johnson City in front of a record crowd of 6,072 for East Tennessee State University women’s basketball.
“It’s alright,” DeShields said Tuesday night about her stat line of 28 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
DeShields zeroed in on the three turnovers – one of which was a questionable offensive charge call – but conceded it was an overall solid game.
“I didn’t feel like I was in a zone,” DeShields said. “It wasn’t like that for me. I felt very poised and calm. Jolette Law told me, ‘You look like a grown woman out there.’ ”
The game was moved from the 2,700-capacity Brooks Gym to ETSU/MHSA Athletic Center to accommodate the larger crowd, which had orange-clad fans mixed in with the Buccaneers.
Law, a Lady Vols assistant coach, would be correct – and it’s a marked contrast from a season ago when an ailing DeShields labored through practice and games and was visibly frustrated.
DeShields had a full game-worthy stat line by halftime with 20 points, six rebounds and four assists. As a team, the Lady Vols shot 58.1 percent (18-31) from the field and had just six turnovers in the first 20 minutes.
Tennessee, which was playing its third game in five days with two coming on the road, started a tad slow and trailed East Tennessee State, 10-14, midway through the first quarter. But then DeShields erupted with back-to-back threes and then back-to-back steals and layups by Jordan Reynolds and DeShields. Meme Jackson ended the first quarter with a three at the buzzer for a 28-16 lead.
“I loved our energy,” Tennessee Coach Holly Warlick said. “We attacked. I am very proud of our effort.”
DeShields opened the second quarter with a layup, and Tennessee continued its offensive attack to take a 46-27 lead at the break. East Tennessee State, meanwhile, was misfiring from the field, shooting 28 percent (9-32) in the first half, and while the Buccaneers lost the ball just seven times, the Lady Vols converted the mistakes into 13 points.
The Lady Vols didn’t let up after the break and led 66-42 after the third quarter with scoring coming from all over the court, including Mercedes Russell and Schaquilla Nunn, who had a block-and-grab swat and got the ball back from Jackson on the other end for a 68-42 lead early in the fourth quarter.
The defense loosened a bit in the fourth quarter, but the Lady Vols kept scoring and have now exceeded 80 points in all three games this season.
“We can’t let that happen when we play tougher opponents,” DeShields said of the defense.
Tennessee continues to scorch the nets and shot 56.1 (32-57) overall. The Lady Vols came back to the pack with 35.3 percent (6-17) marksmanship from the line, and Warlick said the 17 three attempts were too many with the interior and transition game working so well.
“We got 50 points in the paint, and that’s the way it should be,” Warlick said. “We’ve got to keep a fast tempo. We are more of a full-court team than a half-court offensive team.”
That style of play is well-suited for DeShields, who can score from all over the court and is especially effective when attacking the basket because she can get to the rim or pull up for a soft jumper. Defenders also have to respect her long ball, and DeShields was 3-6 from the arc against ETSU.
“She was outstanding,” Warlick said. “She didn’t have to force anything. She attacked. This type of game in an open floor brings out the best in her.”
DeShields was joined in double figures by Russell, who had 15 points on 6-10 shooting, and Reynolds, who notched 10 on 5-6 shooting. Nunn added eight points, while Middleton and Jackson tallied seven each.
“Offseason, we really worked on our weaknesses, one of which was perimeter shooting,” DeShields said.
The Lady Vols shot 76.5 percent (13-17) from the line. Tennessee had 16 assists, 16 turnovers and six steals. The Lady Vols prevailed on the boards, 40-30, with Reynolds grabbing seven and Alexa Middleton snaring five. Kortney Dunbar, who remains limited by foot pain – she logged 15 minutes – connected on one long ball.
“Kortney is going to get heated up soon,” DeShields said.
East Tennessee shot 31.1 percent (19-61) overall, 30.8 percent (8-26) from the arc and 80 percent (12-15) from the line. The Buccaneers had eight assists, 14 turnovers and four steals. They did manage 14 offensive rebounds.
Shamauria Bridges, who tallied 19 points against Tennessee a year ago, was held to six points in Johnson City. Micah Norris led ETSU with 13 points, while Tianna Tarter added 12.
DeShields noted that the team’s overall approach is much different than a year ago.
“We have more of a want-to,” DeShields said.
That resurgence has been led not just by DeShields, but also by the significant improvement of Middleton and Jackson, who are playing expanded roles. Middleton moved into the starting lineup Tuesday to help counter the guard-oriented Buccaneers.
“Their time is here, and they are taking advantage of it,” Warlick said.
The Lady Vols will take their roster of nine and go right back on the road with a Sunday game at Penn State.
“It’s all we know this year,” DeShields said. “It’s allowed our team to come together. It’s been good so far.”