MACON, Ga. (March 2, 2011) - Senior Mike Smith (Vandalia, Mo.) made a game-saving steal with three seconds left and scored a game-high 24 points, as the ETSU men's basketball team survived a major scare and dropped Campbell 54-53 Wednesday night during quarterfinal play in the General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Conference Championship at the University Center.
In a one-point game with just seconds remaining, Campbell's senior guard Junard Hartley dribbled into the lane while attempting to make a game-winning play. Smith, the 2011 Atlantic Sun Conference Player of the Year, came from behind Hartley and stole the ball away to save the victory.
The No. 2-seeded Buccaneers improved to 22-10 on the season and will face the winner of Thursday's quarterfinal matchup between Jacksonville and North Florida on Friday at 9 p.m. Meanwhile, the No. 7-seeded Camels fall to 12-19 and their season ends in heartbreaking fashion.
"They say all the time that at this time of the year you have to survive and advance, and whether you win by one point or 20 points it doesn't matter," said ETSU head coach Murry Bartow, whose team is attempting to win its third straight A-Sun title. "We were lucky tonight, but we are still alive. Mike made plays when we needed them. You have to have your seniors do that in games like this."
Leading by as many as 15 points in the second half, the Bucs were not able to put Campbell away and looked on as the Camels ultimately cut the lead to 54-53 on a pair of free throws from Rico Ferguson. The Bucs had possession of the ball with 35 seconds left and were attempting to milk the clock when sophomore guard Sheldon Cooley (Tampa) committed an offensive foul away from the ball. That set up Campbell's final attempt to win the game, but Smith wouldn't allow it.
For the game, Smith finished with 24 points and six rebounds, and was the only ETSU player in double figures. Meanwhile, Campbell's Eric Griffin led the way with 16 points, while Amir Celestin and Martell Jackson had 10 points apiece.
ETSU struggled to get comfortable in the first half, hitting on just 7-of-18 shots from the field and committing 10 turnovers before the intermission. Campbell took advantage and led by as many as four at 16-12 with just over nine minutes left before the break.
The Buccaneers did respond, using a 16-of-18 clip from the free throw line to ultimately go on a 9-3 run in the final two minutes and lead 31-24 at the break. Smith had 10 points in the first half to lead all scorers, while sophomore forward J.C. Ward (Marietta, Ga.) came off the bench to score five points and grab a pair of rebounds.
In the second half, ETSU rediscovered its offensive rhythm early on and used a 10-2 run to build a 41-26 advantage with 14:23 left in the game. However, Campbell did not go away and quickly produced an 14-3 run of its own to cut the lead back to four at 44-40 with eight minutes on the clock.
During the Campbell run, the Achilles heel for the Bucs was their foul shooting. After doing so well at charity stripe in the first half, the Bucs hit on just two of its first eight free throws in the second half. Ultimately, Smith scored 10 of the Bucs final 12 points and got the play of the game with his steal in the final seconds.
In an ugly game offensively, ETSU committed 16 turnovers and shot just 37 percent from the field, while Campbell had 18 turnovers and shot just 38.5 percent from the floor.
For more on ETSU men's basketball throughout the postseason, visit ETSUBucs.com and click on the men's hoops link.