- Associated Press - Sunday, November 12, 2017

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - On a day that Tennessee’s highly touted freshman class made its debut performance, a pair of seniors led the way for the Lady Volunteers.

Mercedes Russell scored 20 points and pulled down 10 rebounds Sunday as No. 14 Tennessee opened its season with 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. The four freshmen played more of a supporting role as 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 while playing only 22 minutes each. Anastasia Hayes led the Tennessee freshmen with 17 points, though she also had eight turnovers.

Tennessee pulled ahead for good by making an early 17-0 run with ETSU going scoreless for a stretch of 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.”

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.”


ETSU: This game made Tarter’s importance to the Bucs all the more apparent. Tarter had collected 14 points, 11 assists and only one turnover Friday in a season-opening 87-77 victory over Cincinnati. Without her in the lineup for most of the game Sunday, ETSU had 21 turnovers and 12 assists while shooting just 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.”

Tennessee: The four freshmen displayed plenty of potential Sunday but also showed they must work on taking better care of the ball. Hayes, Evina Westbrook, Rennia Davis and Kasiyahna Kushkituah combined for 33 points and 16 of the Lady Vols’ 24 turnovers. Westbrook had six points, six assists and five rebounds. Davis had six points and eight rebounds. Kushkituah had four points and four rebounds.


Tennessee had a 12-1 edge in blocked shots. … ETSU made just one of its final 20 field-goal attempts in the first half.


ETSU: At Appalachian State on Wednesday.

Tennessee: Hosts James Madison on Wednesday.


Follow Steve Megargee at www.twitter.com/stevemegargee

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