JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (March 1, 2003) - The largest crowd of the season gathered to see if the East Tennessee State men's basketball team could garner its third-straight Southern Conference North Division title and a bye in this week's SoCon Tournament.
The Buccaneers delivered a victory.
Led by a game-high 25 points from true freshman guard Tim Smith (Newport News, Va.), the Bucs (17-10 overall, 11-5 SoCon) avenged an early season loss to the Mountaineers (18-9, 11-5) by dropping their conference rival 88-78 Saturday in front of 6,045 fans on Senior Day at Memorial Center.
"The significance of the bye is tremendous," said ETSU head coach Ed DeChellis. "Appalachian State is a very good team and that's a good win for our guys. Going 13-3, 11-5 and 11-5 over the last three years in conference play, and winning our third straight division title is also very significant. I'm very proud of this team."
The victory moved the Bucs into a possible three-way tie atop the Southern Conference North Division standings, with one of those teams - Davidson - scheduled to meet Virginia Military Institute later on Saturday. If Davidson wins that game, the Bucs finish with a No. 2 seed. If Davidson loses that game, the Bucs finish with the No. 1 seed.
Appalachian State would finish third in the tiebreaker if Davidson wins and would be forced to play Wednesday in the first round of the SoCon Tournament at the North Charleston Coliseum in Charleston, S.C. A Davidson loss would give the Mountaineers the No. 2 seed.
DeChellis honored three graduating seniors before Saturday's game and then allowed all three players to start the contest. Guard Ryan Lawson (Rogersville), and forwards Isaac Potter (Richmond, Va.) and Shannon Huffstetler (Mount Holly, N.C.) all played solid minutes early on and helped the Bucs to an early 8-4 lead.
"It's important for those guys to leave with a good feeling and I think they'll remember this for a long time," DeChellis said. "To come out and give us the good start they did was great to see."
Bolstered by Smith's play in the first half, the Bucs used a 20-7 offensive run midway through the first half to build a lead of as many as 18 points and led by 16 at 45-29 at the intermission.
However, the Mountaineers did not go away in the second half.
A quick 11-2 run after halftime cut ETSU's lead to just seven at 47-40 with 16:23 left. The Bucs weathered that storm and moved back out to as many as 16 at 62-46 with 11:27 to go, but Appalachian State rallied once again by outscoring the Bucs 21-10 over the next eight minutes to cut the lead to five at 72-67. From there, however, ETSU hit its foul shots and went on for the 10-point victory.
Along with Smith, the Bucs got a double-double from junior forward Jerald Fields (Gainesville, Fla.) thanks to 13 points and 12 rebounds. Meanwhile, teammates Zakee Wadood (Lonoke, Ark.) and James Anthony finished with 12 points apiece. For the Mountaineers, Shawn Hall led with 20 points, while Ahmad Smith, Chris McFarland and Nate Carson added 15, 12 and 10 points, respectively.
ETSU will play on Thursday at the SoCon Tournament with their tip time still to be determined. Meanwhile, Appalachian State will play either Wednesday night at 8:30 p.m. or Thursday at 2:30 p.m.