CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (Feb. 9, 2004) -- In dramatic fashion, East Tennessee State clinched its fourth straight Southern Conference North Division Championship Monday night with an 82-80 victory over in-state rival Chattanooga.
The Buccaneers remained undefeated in the SoCon (12-0) by winning at McKenzie Arena for the first time since the 1991-92 season. East Tennessee State came back from a 17-point deficit in order to ensure back-to-back 20-win seasons.
Zakee Wadood (Lonoke, Ark.) blocked a possible game-tying layup by UTC's Ray Trowell with seven seconds left, and came up with a steal with two seconds left to preserve the win for the Buccaneers.
The Mocs (13-9, 6-5 SoCon) stormed out of the gate in the first half and owned a 17-point lead at 9:14 of the opening period. ETSU (20-4, 12-0) forged its first tie with 3:35 to play and took the lead for good with 1:34 remaining.
"This was a great win for us," ETSU Head Coach Murry Bartow said. "We were very concerned coming in. Obviously [Chattanooga head coach] Jeff Lebo does a great job. We knew we would take a real shot coming out of the box. They whipped us in the first half in every way. I can't say enough about our guys. We have won six or seven games similar to this, right down to the wire where our guys have made plays late."
The Mocs shot 55.6 percent from the field in the first half to take a 49-33 halftime lead. Ashley Champion and Mindaugas Katelynas combined to score 28 of UTC's 49 points. UTC scored 19 of the first 24 points of the game to lead 19-5 at the 15:17 mark. A Katelynas tip-in at 9:14 gave the Mocs their largest lead, 31-14, and a 9-1 spree pushed the margin back to 17, 46-29 with 3:10 left in the first half.
Casey Long's three-pointer at the buzzer provided the 49-33 halftime advantage.
The Bucs began to chip away at the lead in the second half. A 7-0 run capped by a Wadood layup with 12:40 to play cut the deficit under 10 for the first time in the second half, 59-50, and a 12-1 blitz, which included back-to-back fastbreak layups from Ben Rhoda (Dayton, Ohio), drew the first tie, 75-75 at 3:35.
The Mocs regained the lead, 80-76, on five straight points by Champion sandwiched around a Tim Smith free throw. Jerald Fields (Gainesville, Fla.) drained a three-pointer with 2:10 remaining to make it 80-79, and Wadood provided the winning free throws, sinking two with 1:34 to play. Smith made the first of two free throws with 16 seconds left following a missed free throw opportunity by Trowell for the final two-point margin.
Champion led all scorers with 22 points on 9-of-16 shooting. Katelynas was one point short of his career high with 18 points, and Chris Brown produced his first double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Rogan chipped in 13 points, and freshman Long had 11.
Fields paced ETSU with 18 points and eight boards. Wadood and Smith followed with 16 points apiece, and Rhoda had 12 points and eight rebounds.
The Bucs went to the free throw line 22 times and made 16 shots, while UTC was 5-for-7.
ETSU hosts Elon Saturday at 4 p.m. at Memorial Center. The Mocs and the Bucs will play again in Johnson City on Feb. 24.