JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Jan. 31, 2011) - In a heated battle that included three technical fouls between the two squads, the ETSU men's basketball team overcame Mercer's hot 3-point shooting to take an 82-75 victory in Atlantic Sun Conference play Monday evening at the ETSU/MSHA Athletic Center.
The Buccaneers, who improved to 16-8 overall, 11-2 in A-Sun action, got a career high 28 points and eight rebounds from senior guard Mike Smith (Vandalia, Mo.), while Smith's roommate and fellow senior guard Micah Williams (Manchester) netted 23 points. Meanwhile, the Bears - who were playing without two of their top scorers due to knee injuries - shot 12-of-21 (57 percent) from 3-point range to stay in it most of the way. Despite that effort, Mercer fell to 8-15, 5-7 with the loss.
"It was ugly at times, but you we kept winning and that's what matters," said ETSU head coach Murry Bartow, whose team has won 12 of its last 13 games. "Give Mercer credit because they are playing without a lot of their key guys, and other people stepped up for them and made plays. Our seniors continue to get it done for us, and both Mike and Micah are playing at a high level right now."
Along with Smith and Williams, senior guard Justin Tubbs (Trussville, Ala.) returned from an injury sustained three games ago to score 13 points and collect eight boards. Mercer was led by a career high 23 points from Justin Cecil, while Mark Hall and Brian Mills contributed 12 and 10 points, respectively.
What has become a heated series in the past continued that way at the outset on Monday, as Mercer's bench received a technical foul midway through the half and ETSU's coaching staff was warned as well. Both teams committed some physical fouls and it resulted in a back-and-forth battle.
The Bears' bad luck continued, though, as their third leading scorer Brandon Moore went down with a right knee injury early in the game. Moore unfortunately joined fellow senior Jeff Smith on the bench, who was the Bears leading scorer before injuring his knee four games ago.
In the first half, the Bucs pulled ahead by seven at 20-13 thanks to a 9-0 run with 12 minutes left on the clock. The Bears responded by outscoring ETSU 14-6 over the next seven minutes to regain the lead on a Brian Mills free throw with 5:02 remaining on the clock.
ETSU finally pulled back ahead and got five straight points from Smith to close out the half and lead 38-34 at the break.
Smith finished with 18 in the first half and ETSU shot 57 percent from both the floor and 3-point range. Meanwhile, Mercer shot 38 percent from the floor and 58 percent from 3-point range. ETSU held a 14-2 edge for points in the paint.
In the second half, Mercer clawed its way back into the game by yet again hitting from outside. After ETSU overcame a technical foul on junior forward Isiah Brown (Miami) and ultimately built a 55-47 lead with 12:23 left, but Mercer rallied to hit four straight 3-pointers to tie the game at 59-59.
However, with the score 63-59 in favor of ETSU, Mercer head coach Bob Hoffman was hit with the game's third technical foul. Smith hit both free throws and ETSU connected on another shot from the charity stripe on the ensuing possession to go ahead by seven at 66-59. From there, Williams scored nine of the Bucs' next 10 points to increase the advantage to 77-65 and ETSU never looked back.
For the game, ETSU shot 49 percent from the floor and 56 percent from 3-point range, and held a 39-28 edge in rebounding. Meanwhile, Mercer hit on 57 percent of its 3-point shots.
ETSU will return to action on Friday evening when they take on Florida Gulf Coast in Fort Myers, Fla. Tip is set for 7 p.m. For more on ETSU basketball, visit ETSUBucs.com and click on the men's hoops link.