JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Jan. 17, 2004) - Sophomore guard Tim Smith (Newport News, Va.) scored a season-high 26 points and four other Buccaneers reached double figures as East Tennessee State improved to 4-0 in Southern Conference play with a 95-82 victory over Western Carolina Saturday afternoon in front of 5,705 fans at Memorial Center.
With Appalachian State's loss to UNC Greensboro earlier in the day, the Bucs (12-4, 4-0) now hold a two-game lead early on in the race for the SoCon North Division title. Meanwhile, Western Carolina dropped to 8-7, 2-3.
"It's a good win and a double-digit win, but when we get up like we did tonight we've got to pull away," said ETSU head coach Murry Bartow, whose team led by as many as 29 points midway through the second half. "I thought the first 10 minutes of the second half was as good as we've played all year."
Indeed, the Bucs were already in good position at the end of the first half with a 40-29 lead, but sprinted out of the gate in the second half with a 29-11 offensive run. During that stretch, ETSU utilized a stifling fullcourt press attack and limited any good shooting opportunities for Western Carolina junior Kevin Martin.
However, Martin, who entered the game averaging a nation-best 27.4 points per game, found a way to score. The 6-foot-7 guard broke a 50-year-old school record for free throws set by Ronald Rogers in 1953, connecting on 21 free tosses and finishing with a game-high 37 points - the most points the Bucs have given up to one player in a single game all season.
"He's just very hard to guard," Bartow said. "If you look at the stats, he's going to the line 10 times a game. He's just got a great ability to get in there and get the calls."
In the first half, the Bucs and Catamounts traded baskets until the 13-minute mark, when the Bucs gradually began to build what would become a double-digit lead. To Western Carolina's credit - despite the large deficit in the second half - the Catamounts battled back to within 13 points at 86-73 with 2:12 left in the game thanks to a pair of free throws from guard Emre Atsur. From there, the Bucs lead was too large and ETSU held on for the victory.
The game had its share of unusual statistics, as the two teams combined for 62 total fouls and six players fouled out of the contest. In addition, the two teams combined for a total of 84 foul shots.
Along with Smith, ETSU sophomore Ben Rhoda (Dayton, Ohio) collected 18 points, senior Jerald Fields (Gainesville, Fla.) pitched in 17, and senior Zakee Wadood (Lonoke, Ark.) and sophomore James Anthony (Tampa, Fla.) collected 11 apiece.
For Western, Martin was joined in double figures by teammates Emre Atsur with 16, and Corey Muirhead and Alex Osipovitch with 12 apiece.
The Bucs will be back in action on Monday against Southern Conference foe Elon (8 p.m.), while Western Carolina will return home to meet UNC Greensboro that same evening.