JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Feb. 21, 2010) - Trailing by as many as 18 points in the first half and allowing USC Upstate to shoot a blistering 63 percent from the floor before the intermission, the ETSU men's basketball team put the clamps on defensively in the second half and rallied for a 63-56 victory Sunday in Atlantic Sun Conference action at the ETSU/MSHA Athletic Center.
Behind 56-51 with 4:08 left in the game, ETSU outscored the Spartans 12-0 to close out the contest, as junior guard Justin Tubbs (Trussville, Ala.) hit a 3-pointer with 1:44 left to make it 59-56 in favor of the Bucs. The Spartans were held to just 30 percent shooting in the second half and ETSU outscored Upstate 34-19 in the final 20 minutes to get the win.
The player of the game for ETSU was freshman forward J.C. Ward (Marietta, Ga.), who despite not scoring a point in the contest still grabbed 12 rebounds, and managed to stop the Spartans' 7-foot center Nick Schneiders on the offensive end. Prior to Ward being inserted into the game, Shneiders had scored 16 first-half points, and was ultimately held to just 22 for the game.
"I have to tip my hat to J.C.," said ETSU head coach Murry Bartow, whose team improved to 15-14 overall, 11-7 in A-Sun play. "He played a great game defensively and on the boards against Schneiders. Without him tonight we don't win. As a team, our defense really stepped up in the second half especially, and we made some plays down the stretch when we needed them."
Early in the game, the Bucs had literally no answer for the Spartans' offense. Schneiders scored basically at will, and from the outside Upstate hit on 5-of-9 from 3-point range to build a lead of 37-19 with just over three minutes left in the half. However, the Bucs showed signs of life at that point, cutting the lead to 37-29 thanks to a 10-0 run to close out the half.
In the second half, the Spartans again pulled out to a 13-point edge at 44-31 on a Schneiders' layup with 17:21 left in the game. ETSU rallied once more with a 15-4 run to pull within two at 48-46 with 9:36 remaining on the clock.
Though Upstate scored the next four points to make it 52-46 with just over six minutes left, the Bucs turned it on and outscored the Spartans 17-4 the rest of the way to take the victory.
ETSU put four players in double figures with freshman guard Sheldon Cooley (Tampa) and Tubbs leading the way with 13 points apiece. Meanwhile, junior guard Micah Williams (Manchester) added 12 points, and forward Tommy Hubbard (Boston) added 10. Upstate got a game-high 22 points from Schneiders.
The Bucs forced 18 turnovers off 10 steals, and outrebounded the Spartans 33-32. USC Upstate shot 45 percent from the floor for the game, while the Bucs shot 36 percent in the contest. ETSU held a huge advantage at the charity stripe, shooting 20-of-25 from the line, and hitting 14 of their final 15 free throws.
ETSU will return to action for its final two games of the year next weekend during a road swing through Jacksonville. The Bucs will open that road trip on Thursday night at UNF, with tip set for 7:45 p.m.