JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Jan. 13, 2003) - Holding a lead of as much as 23 points in the second half, East Tennessee State's men's basketball team seemed well on its way to avenging an overtime loss to league rival College of Charleston in last year's Southern Conference Tournament.
But then the Cougars made things interesting.
Trailing 48-25 with 13:18 left in the game, College of Charleston began to slowly whittle away at the Buccaneers lead and pulled to within three points at 62-59 with 24 seconds remaining. However, a pair of made free throws by junior Jerald Fields (Gainesville, Fla.) and some strong defensive play in the final seconds were enough for the Bucs to hold on and win 65-61 in front of 3,980 fans at Memorial Center.
"The last five minutes we got a little sideways, but we're a young team and I'm still proud of our guys for getting a big win," said ETSU head coach Ed DeChellis, whose team improved to 9-6 overall, 3-1 in SoCon play and stretched its home winning streak to 12 games dating back to last season. "I thought, overall, we played our best defensive game of the year.
"That's something I've been trying to concentrate on in practice and I'm happy with the way we responded tonight."
Indeed, the Bucs - who were giving up 74.7 points a contest and ranked 10th in the 12-team SoCon in scoring defense - put the clamps on the Cougars (11-5, 1-2) in the first half. In all, Charleston hit on just 7-of-27 shots from the field for a shooting percentage of 25.9 percent before halftime. That poor effort allowed ETSU to build a 37-20 advantage by the intermission.
However, in the second half, Charleston took advantage of ETSU's own offensive struggles and got the game close at the end. After a made free throw by Ben Rhoda (Dayton, Ohio) made it 48-25 with 13:25 left in the game, Charleston went on to outscore the Bucs 36-17 the rest of the game and seemed to have the momentum when Fields was fouled hard with 22 seconds left on the clock and ETSU holding a slim 62-59 advantage.
On the play, Fields fell to the floor and seemed to aggravate the right ankle he injured earlier this season. However, his teammates wanted him to go to the line and shoot the critical free throws.
"I didn't want to shoot at first, but then Ryan (Lawson, Rogersville) told me I was not going out of the game," Fields said. "I've had some lapses at the line this year, but I just concentrated and got the job done."
Fields hit both shots and Cougars could not complete the comeback.
For ETSU, junior post Zakee Wadood (Lonoke, Ark.) led the way with 12 points and 11 rebounds to earn his 13th career double-double. Wadood also pitched in a game-high five blocks and three steals. In addition to Wadood, sophomore swingman Tiras Wade scored a game-high 14 points, while Fields pitched in 13 and true freshman guard Rhoda scored 11.
Charleston was led by Thomas Mobley's 14 points and Joe Weurding's 12-point effort.
The Bucs will return to action Saturday when they travel to Virginia Military Institute for a 1 p.m. tipoff at Cameron Hall.