HONOLULU (Dec. 30, 2003) - Struggling through a poor shooting night and failing to capitalize on a late comeback attempt, the East Tennessee State University men's basketball team dropped the consolation championship of the Rainbow Classic to American University 71-66 Tuesday afternoon at the Stan Sheriff Center on the campus of the University of Hawaii.
With the loss, the Buccaneers drop to 8-4 overall as they prepare to return to Southern Conference play next week with back-to-back road games at Furman (Jan. 5) and at UNC Greensboro (Jan. 10). Meanwhile, American improved to 5-6 on the season.
"We just didn't play the way we needed to play and that's my fault," said ETSU head coach Murry Bartow. "For whatever reason, one team came out without a lot of spark. One team did and one team didn't. I know this, at Furman and at Greensboro it's going to be hard. We've just got to try and get healthy and get ready to play. That's all we can do."
The Bucs stumbled out of the gate, shooting just 30 percent from the floor in the first half, while American hit on 8-of-11 shots (73 percent) from 3-point-range. The Eagles' Linas Lekavicius led the assault with 17 points before the intermission on 6-of-9 shooting, helping American to a 15-point lead at the break, 40-25.
After failing to make much of a challenge to the Eagles' lead early in the second half, the Bucs got a major spark from freshman guard Travis Strong (Memphis, Tenn.) at the 1:50 mark. Trailing 66-54, Strong nailed back-to-back 3-point shots and hit 1-of-2 free throws to cut the lead to 66-61 with 1:24 left.
However, from there the Eagles hit their foul shots and iced the game at the line. For American, Lekavicius led the way with 22 points, while Jernavis Draughn scored 20 points and Andre Ingram added 11.
ETSU got a team-high 15 points from Tim Smith (Newport News, Va.), while James Anthony (Tampa, Fla.) added 11 and Strong collected 10. The Bucs shot just 37 percent from the floor, while American hit on 46 percent of their shots. In addition, the Eagles held a rebounding advantage of 45-31.
The Bucs will travel home late Tuesday night and return to Johnson City early on Jan. 1. Following back-to-back road games against SoCon competition, the Bucs will return to Memorial Center Jan. 17 against non-conference foe Union College.