JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Jan. 8, 2015) – Leading by 13 points with seven minutes left in regulation, the ETSU men’s basketball team held on as a frantic Mercer rally ended when a last-second shot by the Bears’ Darious Moten missed the mark, giving the Buccaneers a 71-70 win in Southern Conference play Thursday evening inside Freedom Hall.
With the victory, the Bucs snapped a five-game losing streak to Mercer dating back to the 2011-12 season, and improved to 9-4 overall, 4-1 in SoCon play. Meanwhile, Mercer drops to 8-9, 3-1.
“Wow, if that shot (by Moten) goes down at the end we are having a totally different conversation,” said ETSU head coach Murry Bartow. “It’s a good win. They are a very good team, so we will take it. The last few minutes of the game didn’t go like we would have wanted, but we got out on the right side of the scoreboard.”
For the game, the Bucs were led by a game-high 22 points from senior guard Jalen Riley (Racine, Wis.), while fellow senior guard Rashawn Rembert (Tampa, Fla.) finished with 17 and junior forward Lester Wilson (Knoxville) had 14.
The first half was highly entertaining, with both teams playing well on the offensive end of the floor. Mercer finished the half shooting 56 percent from the field, while ETSU committed just two turnovers and shot 43 percent from 3-point range. On the scoreboard, the Bucs led for the first 10 minutes, but Mercer used a 7-0 run midway through the half to take a 17-16 advantage.
Mercer led the rest of the first half, but the Bucs closed the first 20 minutes with a defensive stop and then four straight offensive rebounds on one possession, which ended when sophomore guard Devin Harris (Tampa, Fla.) hit a layup at the buzzer. That score made it 36-34 at the intermission.
The Bucs’ perimeter trio of Rembert, Wilson and Riley powered a 14-0 offensive run to open the second half, as each hit from beyond the arc and Riley netted eight of those 14 points to make it 48-38 with just 16 minutes left in regulation. ETSU’s lead grew to as many as 13 on three different occasions in the second half, but with 3:25 left in the game a layup by Mercer’s Jordan Strawberry capped an 8-3 run to make it 69-62.
From there, the Bears continued to chip away at the Bucs’ lead and ultimately using an 8-2 run – capped by a dunk from Moten with 40 seconds left – to make it 71-70. On the next possession, Riley turned the ball over with nine seconds left, and the Bucs were left to make a defensive stop.
The Bears in-bounded the ball and were unable to progress to the basket quick enough as the Bucs implemented a full-court defense, forcing a timeout by head coach Bob Hoffman with 2.8 seconds left on the clock. After the timeout, the Bears did run a well-designed play to get Moten an open look from 15 feet, but the shot missed the mark.
For the Bears, guard Jestin Lewis led the way with 18 points, while Moten finished with 13 and Jibri Bryan added 11. The Bears shot 46 percent from the floor, but were out-rebounded by the Bucs 39-33.
ETSU – which hit 10-of-26 shots from 3-point range for a 39 percent clip – also out-rebounded the Bears 39-33 and shot 77 percent from the foul line. The Bucs committed just nine turnovers and Mercer was equally protective of the ball with just seven turnovers on the night.
Meanwhile, Mercer shot 46 percent from the floor and 73 percent from the foul line in the win.
The Bucs will return to action Saturday afternoon when longtime SoCon rival Chattanooga invades Freedom Hall. Tip is set for 4 p.m., and tickets are available by calling 423-439-3878.
For more on ETSU men’s basketball throughout the 2014-15 season, visit ETSUBucs.com and click on the men’s hoops link.