NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (March 5, 2004) - East Tennessee State survived foul difficulties to beat Davidson 96-84 in the semifinal round of the 2004 Southern Conference Basketball Championship at the North Charleston Coliseum.
Tim Smith (Newport News, Va.) tied a career-high with 29 points, dished off 9 assists and added six rebounds and five steals to lead the Bucs.
Due to the Bucs' foul trouble, ETSU coach Murry Bartow had to continually rotate his top scorers in and out of the game. Zakee Wadood (Lonoke, Ark.), Jerald Fields (Gainesville, Fla.) and Smith finished with four fouls each.
The Bucs (No. 1 seed, North Division) kept a double-figure lead for most of the game, but the Wildcats (No. 2 seed, South) battled back behind the play of Ian Johnson and narrowed it to a six-point game with 4:15 remaining. Davidson would get no closer.
"It's a six point game and we're on our heels," said Bartow. "Thankfully, we held our composure. We stepped up, made big stops and got the score back to 10."
Smith made six straight free throws and Fields added three more to preserve the win for the Bucs (26-5). Fields finished with 15 points and nine rebounds.
Johnson did everything he could to give Davidson (17-12) a chance at a comeback. At one point, he scored nine straight points and had 17 points in a five-minute stretch of the second half. Johnson finished with 21 points and eight rebounds.
"I'm glad my guys came back, but I think we ran out of gas near the four-minute mark," said Davidson coach Bob McKillop. "We used too much energy to come back and couldn't finish."
After junior James Anthony (Tampa, Fla.) left the game with a shoulder injury early in the first half, ETSU freshman Travis Strong (Memphis, Tenn.) came in and picked up the slack for the Bucs. Strong hit three 3-pointers in a 17-7 stretch that saw his team extend the lead from four to 14. For the game, Strong hit five 3s and finished with a career high 17 points.
"I'm thankful for Travis Strong," said Bartow. "We tell the guys to be ready, to stay ready, because you never know when your time will come. Travis deserved what happened."
The Bucs pushed the lead to 17 at one time, but Davidson's Matt McKillop hit his second of two 3s in the first 20 minutes to cut the Wildcats deficit before the break. McKillop had eight points in the half. McKillop kept the momentum early in the second, knocking down three more treys to finish with 21.
Logan Kosmalski was the early scoring threat for the Wildcats, tossing in 12 first-half points before ending with 16 points, seven boards.
East Tennessee State will take on either Georgia Southern or Chattanooga in the championship game Saturday at 1 p.m.