JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Feb. 1, 2009) - Overcoming its worst first half production of the season, the ETSU men's basketball team got a double-double performance from junior guard Mike Smith (Vandalia, Mo.) to make up a 10-point halftime deficit and avoid an upset at the hands of North Florida, dropping the Ospreys 67-64 Sunday afternoon at the UNF Arena.
Smith posted 14 rebounds and a career high 24 points in the winning effort, while senior forward Kevin Tiggs (Flint, Mich.) pitched in 17. With USC Upstate's 70-59 upset win over Jacksonville on Sunday, the Bucs move back into a tie for first place in the Atlantic Sun Conference race, moving to 16-6 overall, 10-2 in the A-Sun. Meanwhile, North Florida drops to 4-17, 2-9.
"We're very, very fortunate to get this win," said ETSU head coach Murry Bartow. "We obviously didn't play well in the first half, but we grinded it out in the second half and battled. I can't say enough about Mike Smith. He really played well even though he wasn't feeling good tonight. He showed a lot of leadership today."
The first half was absolutely atrocious for the Buccaneers, as they committed 13 turnovers, had no steals or assists, and shot just 39 percent from the field. The result was ETSU's worst offensive first half of the year and a 33-23 advantage for the Ospreys at the break.
However, in the second half the Bucs unwrapped their patented fullcourt pressing style and the result was a more up tempo game. ETSU ultimately made up seven points to make it 47-44 with 10:53 left in the game, and from there the Bucs took their first lead at 50-49 on a layup by Tiggs with 8:02 left.
The Bucs ultimately moved out to a seven-point advantage with 1:45 left thanks to a 3-pointer by senior guard Courtney Pigram (Memphis), but a pair of 3-pointers by the Ospreys ultimately spurred a frantic rally late to make it 65-64 with 14 seconds left. Smith then hit a pair of free throws to move the advantage to 67-64, an attempted 3-pointer by UNF's Cortez Riley missed the mark, and an offensive rebound by senior forward Greg Hamlin (Flint, Mich.) on a missed free throw by Smith with two seconds left iced the win.
ETSU ultimately rebounded in the second half to shoot 52 percent from the floor for the game, and after committing 13 turnovers in the first half the Bucs had just five in the second half, while forcing 12 turnovers by the Ospreys.
For UNF, Eni Cuka led the way and matched Smith's efforts with a game-high 24 points.
The Bucs return home for a pair of games inside Memorial Center, with Florida Gulf Coast coming to the Dome on Saturday at 4 p.m. and Stetson invading on Monday at 7 p.m.