JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Dec. 6, 2003) - East Tennessee State head coach Murry Bartow had a simple message to his team as the Buccaneers entered the locker room trailing Georgia Southern 48-46 at halftime of Saturday's game at Memorial Center.
That message focused on senior forward Zakee Wadood (Lonoke, Ark.).
"The gist of what I said at halftime was to get on Zakee's back and let him carry us," Bartow said. "I don't know where to start. He's just such a warrior."
Indeed, Wadood was the difference against the Eagles, setting a career-high with 30 points and picking up his 20th career double-double in helping the Bucs to a hard-fought 91-85 victory over Georgia Southern in the Southern Conference opener for both teams. The Bucs improved to 5-1 overall, 1-0 in SoCon play, the best start by an ETSU men's basketball team since the 1991-92 season. Meanwhile, GSU dropped to 3-2, 0-1.
Wadood - who is now just six shy of 1,000 points for his career - finished the game hitting on 8-of-15 shots from the floor, including a 2-of-4 clip from beyond the 3-point line. At the charity stripe, he was 12-of-15, while picking up 12 rebounds, two assists, four blocks and a steal.
Yet Wadood was not alone on the offensive end, as every ETSU starter reached double figures. Sophomore guard Tim Smith (Newport News, Va.) scored 16 points, both senior forward Jerald Fields (Gainesville, Fla.) and sophomore guard Ben Rhoda (Dayton, Ohio) picked up 14, and junior guard James Anthony (Tampa, Fla.) adding 13 points.
Defensively, ETSU struggled to stop GSU in the first half, as they attempted to utilize a man-to-man defense. However, Bartow made the switch to a zone look in the second half and it made all the difference. After shooting 49 percent (19-of-39) in the first half, the Eagles hit on only 35 percent of their field goal attempts after the break and the Bucs took advantage.
Georgia Southern held the lead at 56-53 with just over 15 minutes to play, but the Bucs outscored the Eagles 22-9 over the next seven minutes to take a 75-65 lead with 8:27 remaining. ETSU led by nine points at 85-76 with 1:46 remaining when Southern made one last run, cutting the lead to 86-83 with less than a minute to go, but that was as close as the game would get.
For Georgia Southern, Terry Williams scored a team-high 18 points, while Frank Bennett added 17. Three other Eagles reached double-figures, with Jean Francois, Elton Nesbitt and Sean Olivier netting 15, 11 and 10 points, respectively.
ETSU will take a nine-day break to study for finals, and will return to action on Dec. 15 when they travel to take on Atlantic Coast Conference foe Clemson at 7:30 p.m. Meanwhile, Georgia Southern will also return to action on Dec. 15 at Wagner beginning at 7 p.m.