CULLOWHEE, N.C. (Feb. 22, 2003) -- Western Carolina freshman Corey Muirhead scored a career-high 23 points, but the Catamounts (8-17, 5-9 SoCon) could not overcome 22 points from ETSU's senior guard Ryan Lawson (Rogersville, Tenn.) and 21 from freshman point guard Tim Smith (Newport News, Va.) as East Tennessee State (16-9, 10-4 SoCon) held on for an 89-86 victory Saturday night at the Ramsey Activity Center.
Muirhead, whose previous best was scoring 10 point on five occasions, made 10-of-11 shots from the field and connected on 3-of-6 from the line. Many of the points from the York, Ontario, native came from close range, including three impressive ally-oop dunks.
However, ESTU reserve Ryan Lawson stole the headlines with his 22 points, draining 5-of-6 from 3-point range. He also connected on 5-of-6 from the line, including two free throws on a technical late with 23 seconds left in the game. Smith also was proficient from long range, making 3-of-4 treys.
With 6:27 left and Western holding a one-point lead (72-71), Zakee Wadood (Lonoke, Ark.) made a pair of free throws to spark a 10-2 Buc run to make the score 81-74 with 1:43 remaining. The Cats immediately answered with a Kori Hatcher 3-pointer to cut WCU's deficit to three (81-77). The teams traded baskets then Smith hit two free throws, followed by a Lawson free throw to once again give ETSU a seven-point advantage (86-79) with 34 seconds left. While WCU was going to the free throw line, a technical was called on the WCU bench with 23 seconds left in the game. ETSU's Lawson hit the two free throws and WCU's Martin hit two from the line to make the score 88-81. Emre Atsur stripped Jerald Fields (Gainesville, Fla.) of the ball and drained a 3-pointer to make the score 88-84 in the Bucs' favor with 15 seconds left. Smith only went 1-for-2 at the line on ETSU's next possession and Martin made it a 3-point game with eight seconds left by hitting two free throws. Fields then missed two free throws, leaving Western time for a desperation heave which came up short as time expired.
Despite trailing most of the first half, East Tennessee took a 46-40 lead at the break. The stats were fairly even through the first 20 minutes as WCU shot 56 percent from the field and ETSU shot 51.6. However, the Bucs hit 7-of-11 3-pointers, compared to just 1-of-5 by WCU, and held an 18-12 rebound advantage.
Both teams continued to shoot well in the second period as Western shot 57.4 percent from the field for the game, compared to 51.9 percent by ETSU. The Cats were also able to keep in the game by making six 3-pointers in the second half, while ETSU only hit three. The difference in the game was ETSU going to the line 35 times, making 23, while the Cats only made 22 trips to the charity stripe, making 17.
In addition to Lawson and Smith, Wadood and Fields scored in double figures for East Tennessee. Wadood finished with 16 with three steals and seven rebounds. Fields added 10 points.
For the Catamounts, Kevin Martin finished with 19 points, thanks to sinking 11-of-12 at the line, while Rans Brempong and Hatcher each scored 10. Brempong added seven rebounds, while Hatcher dished out eight assists with three steals.
East Tennessee State, which moves into a three-way tie in the Southern Conference North Division along with Davidson and Appalachian State, has just two regular season games remaining, both at home, and will play on Monday, Feb. 24 as the Buccaneers host Furman at 7:30 pm. ETSU will wrap up its regular season by hosting Appalachian State, perhaps for all the marbles, at the "mini-dome" on Mar. 1.