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Evans' double-double lifts ETSU to second consecutive NCAA tourney berth

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The East Tennessee State Lady Bucs know how to celebrate even if it's better suited to a football field than a hardwood floor.

The first women's team to clinch an automatic berth into the 2009 NCAA tournament as winners of the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament -- the Lady Bucs' second straight -- enjoyed the moment Saturday by dousing ETSU coach Karen Kemp with a bucket of Gatorade.

"Whew, it's cold," Kemp said as she sat down to talk about their championship with a net hanging around her neck.

Siarre Evans scored 12 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, and East Tennessee State earned the school's second overall trip to the NCAA tournament by beating Jacksonville 58-52 for the Atlantic Sun championship for a second consecutive year.

Kemp pointed at Evans, the Atlantic Sun's player of the year and the tournament's most valuable player, for initiating the wet celebration. Kemp had been dancing beside the school mascot and was heading toward a seat on the bench when several of her Lady Bucs drenched her.

"As I went to sit, that's when it hit me. I had no clue it was on its way. I was hoping that we could get it in the locker room because I would've been ready for that. I wasn't ready for it on the floor," Kemp said.

"That's OK. Anyway they want to celebrate, we'll do that."

The Lady Bucs (20-10) hadn't been to the NCAA tournament before winning the Atlantic Sun title a year ago. But they became the league's first team to successfully defend its tournament title since Georgia State repeated in 2002 and 2003 by beating Jacksonville for the eighth straight team and for the ninth in 10 games.

The men had a chance to join them later Saturday for the first time in school history, also playing Jacksonville for the men's tournament title.

"It feels great," Evans said of another NCAA berth. "The first year we went we were happy to be there. This year, hopefully we can go and win a game."

TaRonda Wiles had a game-high 15 points for ETSU, which has won 20 games now in three straight seasons. Shannon White added 10 off the bench all in the first half on 5-of-6 shooting. ETSU outrebounded Jacksonville 50-37 led by Evans' 15, a single-game record for an A-Sun tournament game.

Jacksonville (19-13) missed out again on earning the first NCAA tournament berth in school history. Regina Omoite had 10 points for the second-seeded Dolphins who now have lost to ETSU in each of the last three A-Sun tournaments.

"Obviously, we're very disappointed with the loss," Jacksonville coach Jill Dunn said. "You have to give ETSU credit. They came out in the second half and really pounded the boards, and I think that was the difference in the game."

The Dolphins made it close at the end after trailing by as much as 10 in the final minutes.

Omoite hit a 3, and Teneskei Richardson added two free throws to pull within 55-52 with 38 seconds left. But Tara Davis hit two free throws with 31.5 seconds to go for ETSU, and Omoite missed a 3. Wiles added one free throw for the final margin in the final seconds.

DaVina Hamilton, Omoite and Virginia Gregoire finished with 74 wins in four years, 14 better than any other group of seniors at Jacksonville. Omoite called it both disappointing and progress for the program.

"I mean, we'll be here next year," she said.

Jacksonville led 43-39 after a layup by Valerie Jones with 9:41 left. But the Dolphins went cold and didn't hit another shot until Richardson's bucket with 3:28.

The Lady Bucs took advantage as Evans hit a 3 and Belcher scored at 8:56 for the ninth and final lead change as part of a 12-0 run for ETSU.

Jacksonville led 28-23 at halftime, but ETSU opened the second half with a 16-5 run capped by a 3-pointer from Evans at 14:12 for a 39-33 lead after Kemp wrote on the board at halftime that the Lady Bucs would win the game.

"It let us know she wasn't worried about anything," Wiles said. "It kind of eased our mind so we can go out there and play."