NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (March 8, 2002) - East Tennessee State claimed the championship of the 2003 Mountain Dew Southern Conference Men's Basketball Tournament with a 97-90 win over Chattanooga Saturday evening at the North Charleston Coliseum.
The win gives the Buccaneers the Southern Conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The trip to the NCAA Tournament is ETSU's first since 1992.
Freshman point guard Tim Smith (Newport News, Va.), the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, led East Tennessee State (20-10) with 25 points. Smith was one of six Bucs to score in double figures.
Ashley Champion and Jason Rogan each scored 27 points for Chattanooga (21-9).
ETSU took a 48-40 halftime lead but Chattanooga raced back in the second half to tie the game at 59 on a dunk by Rogan with 14:53 left. The game was tied for the last time at 66 with 10:19 left. UTC had a chance to take the lead after Champion made the first of two free throws to tie the game but missed the second.
The Bucs then went on a 7-0 run, taking advantage of two Chattanooga turnovers, to lead 73-66 with 9:21 left. ETSU stretched its lead to as many
as 11 points at 83-72 with 6:13 to play on a conventional three-point play by freshman forward Brad Nuckles (Coulcil, Va.).
Chattanooga cut the lead to three at 93-90 as Champion hit a three-pointer from the right win with 25 seconds left. ETSU senior guard Ryan Lawson (Rogersville, Tenn.) made four straight free throws inside the final 23 seconds to seal the win.
East Tennessee State will now wait until next Sunday to see who their opponent will be in the 2003 NCAA Tournament.
The East Tennessee State athletic department will hold a reception for the 2003 Southern Conference Tournament Champion East Tennessee State Buccaneers tomorrow evening at 5:30 p.m. at Brooks Gym on the ETSU campus. All Buccaneer fans and the general public is welcome to attend.
Quotes from ETSU head coach Ed DeChellis:
"It's been a long, tough road and it's great to be here. It's been a tough season and we're glad that we could come in here and win this. UTC is a
very tough team. We've got young kids who love to play hard and win. Tim (Smith) is a phenomenal player who works so hard and I love to see those guys come out with a win.
Ryan Lawson: "I can't explain how great this feels. It's unbelievable. These guys all did what they had to do. We didn't come to lose and we're still not ready to go home. Our team effort was unreal and I give it to our freshmen especially who pulled this team together."