Mercedes Russell scored 20 points and pulled down 10 rebounds Sunday to lead No. 14 Tennessee in an 87-49 blowout of East Tennessee State.
This marked the debut performance of a Tennessee freshman class that was ranked first in the nation by multiple recruiting services, but the four freshmen played more of a supporting role. The Lady Vols relied more on the senior duo of Russell and Jaime Nared, who had 13 points and 13 rebounds.
“They’re our leaders,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. “They’re expected to have big performances. Both of them were solid, vocal, active, rebounded when they needed to, scored when they needed to. They’re seasoned vets, and we’re going to rely on them a lot.”
Russell and Nared delivered double-doubles in only 22 minutes of court time each. Anastasia Hayes led the Tennessee freshmen with 17 points, though she also had eight turnovers.
The Lady Vols pulled ahead for good with an early 17-0 run in which ETSU went scoreless for 7 minutes, 54 seconds.
“That’s just what we’re capable of, how we’re capable of playing,” Nared said. “I don’t think we should take any teams lightly.”
Tennessee blocked 12 shots to ETSU’s one.
ETSU (1-1) couldn’t recover from the loss of All-Southern Conference guard Tianna Tarter, who played just six minutes before an injury knocked her out for the remainder of the game. ETSU coach Brittney Ezell said Tarter took an elbow to the face and had six stitches and a broken nose.
Tarter averaged 19.8 points last season and 17 points two years ago.
“We’ll get her checked out,” Ezell said. “Tianna had a concussion two years ago, so I want to make sure and err on the side of caution with her. ... We need her to be healthy and need her to be fully recovered. If I have to hold her out another game, I’m not opposed to that.”
Without Tarter in the lineup for most of the game, ETSU committed 21 turnovers and had just 12 assists while shooting only 24.7 percent from the floor. The Bucs did play much better in the second half after the game was out of reach.
“I absolutely love their heart, I love their resiliency, I love how tough they are,” Ezell said. “Tianna Tarter going out in the first quarter really challenged our young team, and I think they showed me some things today that I wasn’t really sure about.”