JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Jan. 26, 2009) - Facing a four-point halftime deficit, the ETSU men's basketball team picked up the pace in the second half and forced the issue against Atlantic Sun Conference foe USC Upstate, ultimately outscoring the Spartans 50-36 in the final 20 minutes to take an 82-72 win Monday night in front of 3,854 fans at Memorial Center.
The Bucs' fullcourt defense forced 17 turnovers and ETSU hit on 31-of-35 free throws (89 percent) to pick up the victory and move to 15-5 overall, 9-1 in A-Sun action. With the win, the Bucs set up a crucial first-place showdown with Jacksonville Friday night in Florida, as the Dolphins also stand 9-1 in the league. The game will air on CSS at 7 p.m.
"It was an interesting game," said ETSU head coach Murry Bartow, whose team completed a perfect 4-0 homestand. "The first half was not what we wanted, but the second half we did a better job and got rolling. Our big three were huge again and Greg (Hamlin) had another double-double. Teams in this league are not easy to beat and we knew Upstate would give us a fight. We just didn't think it would be that tough in the first half."
The "Big Three" of seniors Kevin Tiggs (Flint, Mich.) and Courtney Pigram (Memphis), and junior guard Mike Smith (Vandalia, Mo.) were certainly strong again for the Bucs. Smith and Pigram each finished with a game-high 22 points, while Tiggs pitched in 18. In addition, Hamlin ended the night with his second double-double in three games with 11 points and 12 rebounds, to go along with four assists, four blocks and two steals. Pigram was an impressive 13-of-14 at the charity stripe.
Along with shooting 89 percent and scoring 31 points at the foul line, ETSU held USC Upstate to just 42 percent shooting in the second half after giving up a 52 percent clip in the first half. The Bucs' defense also produced 10 steals.
In the first half, Upstate used the size of 7-foot-3 Nick Schneiders to perfection, pounding the ball inside while also using the big man to find open 3-point shooters on the perimeter. The result was a strong showing by the Spartans on the Bucs' home floor in the first 20 minutes and a 36-32 lead at the break.
However, ultimately the Bucs used their fullcourt press defense and transition game to open the second half on a 24-6 offensive run and make it 54-42 with 10:18 left. While the Spartans were able to cut the lead back to just nine at 75-66 with 1:22 left, there was just not enough time to continue a comeback.
For USC Upstate, Bobby Davis led the way with 18 points, Schneiders added 16 and Josh Chavis pitched in 15. The Spartans won the battle of the glass 33-32, and shot 35 percent from beyond the arc.
For more on ETSU men's basketball, visit ETSUBucs.com and click on the men's basketball link.