Kellie Harper picked up her first win as the Lady Vols head coach on Tuesday night in Johnson City.
Despite a 41-point performance from East Tennessee State’s Erica Haynes-Overton, Tennessee was able to squeak out a 72-68 win over the Lady Buccaneers. With the win, Harper became the first Lady Vols head coach to win in her debut since Margaret Hutson did so in 1971.
“You never take a win for granted,” Harper said following the game. “We’re excited to be going home with a win.
“Proud of our players for finding a way to hold on to that one. It’ll be a great opportunity for us to learn without having to take a loss. We’re very fortunate. They did a great job of playing for 40 minutes.”
The Lady Vols (1-0) led ETSU 61-50 at the end of three quarters, and following a Rennia Davis three with 5:47 remaining, led 68-58. ETSU then went on an 8-0 run to cut the Tennessee lead to 68-66 with 35 seconds remaining.
Despite making only one of their final 10 shot attempts and not making a field goal over the final 3:28, the Lady Vols closed the game out with four made free throws — two from Zaay Green and one apiece from Davis and Rae Burrell.
“What a fun environment for both teams to play in,” Harper said. “It was a great crowd and it got really loud. It was actually hard to communicate at times with our team.”
Tennessee trailed early, as ETSU (0-1) jumped out to a 10-4 lead thanks to seven straight points from Haynes-Overton, who scored nine of the team’s first 10 points. The Lady Vols started to get things going as the first quarter came to an end thanks to Lou Brown and Tamari Key who combined to score six straight and tie the game at 10-all with three minutes remaining in the quarter. At the end of the first, Tennessee led 19-15.
The strong close to the first quarter carried over to the second quarter for the Lady Vols. Green scored six straight points at one point in the quarter, helping Tennessee outscore ETSU 21-15 and take a 40-30 lead into the half.
Green started the second half scoring with a 3-pointer and helped guide Tennessee to a 61-50 lead at the end of three quarters. The sophomore guard would finish with a team-high 17 points on 7-of-17 shooting from the floor. Green also had five rebounds, an assist and a block.
The biggest shots Green made were the two free throws with 27 seconds remaining, extending the Lady Vols lead from two to four points.
“It wasn’t really no pressure,” Green said. “I just shot two free throws and I knew I was going to make them.”
While Green led the way, Lou Brown and Tamari Key shined in their Lady Vol debut. Brown scored 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds off the bench, while Key recorded a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Key also had three assists and became the eighth Lady Vol to record a double-double in her debut.
Tennessee now returns home to prepare for its home-opener against Central Arkansas on Thursday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET.