NASHVILLE (Feb. 14, 2009) - The ETSU men's basketball team relinquished an 11-point lead in the final eight minutes and senior guard Courtney Pigram (Memphis) missed a potential game winning shot for the second straight game as the Belmont Bruins upended the Buccaneers 76-73 Saturday evening inside the Curb Event Center.
The Bruins (15-9 overall, 11-4 A-Sun) provided the Bucs' with a Valentine's Day heartbreak, avenging an earlier 87-57 loss to ETSU (17-8, 11-4) this season and moving back into a tie with the Bucs for second place in the league race. Both teams now trail first place Jacksonville by one game in the standings.
"This is the second game in a row now that we had a clean look, and it just didn't go in," said ETSU head coach Murry Bartow. "We've been in 14 games like this so far this year and we've won eight of them. This is another that just didn't go our way."
In a game that was 45-45 with 14:09 left, the Bucs went on an 11-2 run to build a nine-point edge and eventually pushed that advantage to 62-51 with 8:10 remaining in regulation. However, from there Belmont slowly picked away at ETSU's lead and actually gained a 3-point advantage at 69-66 with 3:43 left. The two teams subsequently traded the lead three times, before a 3-pointer by Belmont's Matthew Dotson with 1:28 left made it 74-73 in favor of the Bruins.
The Bucs later made a defensive stop on Belmont and had the ball with 16 seconds on the clock. ETSU ran a play designed for senior forward Kevin Tiggs (Flint, Mich.), who had a game high 25 points, but he was quickly double teamed by Belmont. Tiggs passed the ball to Pigram who then fired an off target 3-pointer from the left wing. The Bruins rebounded the ball and Mike Hedgepeth's two free throws iced the game.
At this point, the Bucs have lost four conference games, with three of those by a combined seven points. The other loss was a 10-point overtime defeat to Jacksonville in a game the Dolphins tied with a long range 3-pointer as time expired in regulation.
The Bucs got off to a slow start for the fourth time in their last six games, as the Bruins 3-point attack hit early and built a lead of as many as five points. Belmont kept the advantage for the first eight minutes before the Bucs tied the contest 12 and ETSU later led by as many as eight at 26-18 when a rainbow 3-pointer from Pigram found the bottom of the net with 7:32 left in the half.
Belmont answered though and outscored the Bucs 17-7 the rest of the way to make it 35-33 at the break. Belmont shot 47 percent from the floor in the first half, while the Bucs hit on 41.7 percent from the floor. ETSU did match the Bruins five 3-pointers, but guard Alex Renfroe split through the Bucs' defense on his way to a first half best 14 points to make the difference for Belmont.
While Tiggs led the way with 25 points, junior guard Mike Smith (Vandalia, Mo.) went 8-of-8 from the foul line and finished with 20 points. Pigram posted 14. For Belmont, Renfroe had a team high 16, guard Henry Harris finished with 15, and forward Shane Dansby pitched in 11.
The Bucs must now regroup and find a way to stay in the conference race as they face Lipscomb in the second game of this two-game road swing in Nashville. The Bucs and Bisons will tip at 8 p.m. (EST) Monday night at Allen Arena.