JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Jan. 31, 2015) – Senior guard Jalen Riley (Racine, Wis.) scored the final 12 points and finished with a game-high 24, as the ETSU men’s basketball team closed on a 15-1 offensive run to cap a dramatic 61-59 comeback win over North Carolina Central Saturday evening inside Freedom Hall.
Riley hit the game-winning 3-pointer with 13 seconds left in regulation, and the Bucs defense then held the Eagles on their final offensive possession of the game. With the win, ETSU improved to 13-8 on the season while also snapping the Eagles 10-game winning streak. With the loss, North Carolina Central dropped to 16-6 on the year.
“That’s a huge win – one that we may look back on a few weeks from now and really say that one was big,” said ETSU head coach Murry Bartow, whose team snapped a two-game losing streak. “That’s what Jalen can do. He can make some really big shots and he did that tonight. (North Carolina Central) is a really good team, a NCAA tournament team. That’s a great win.”
The Bucs trailed by double digits throughout most of the second half and were facing a 12-point deficit at 58-46 with 5:44 left in regulation. At that point, sophomore guard Devin Harris (Tampa, Fla.) made three of four free throws on back-to-back possessions, and Riley hit a 3-pointer to make it 58-52.
N.C. Central’s Anthony McDonald then made one of two at the foul line before Riley closed the game with nine straight points, including the game-winning 3-pointer. The Eagles had one last opportunity to tie or win, but the Bucs forced N.C. Central’s Karamo Jawara to force up a desperation 3-pointer that missed the mark at the buzzer.
For the game, Riley was joined in double figures by junior forward Lester Wilson (Knoxville), who finished with 10. The Eagles got a team-high 22 from McDonald, while Jordan Parks and Jawara netted 14 and 10 points, respectively.
The Bucs opened the first half with a pair of 3-pointers from Wilson and A.J. Merriweather (Jackson) to take an early 6-0 lead. ETSU’s advantage then grew to seven at 10-3, but at that point N.C. Central went on a 10-0 run of its own to grab a 13-10 edge. The Eagles went on to ultimately build a 10-point lead at 30-20 with five minutes left in the half.
ETSU used a 6-0 run to get to within four at 32-28, but a 3-pointer by Karamo Jawara at the first half buzzer made it 35-28 at the break. In the first half, N.C. Central shot 54 percent from the field and held an 18-14 advantage on the glass.
In the second half, the Eagles opened with a 7-0 run to take their largest lead of the game at 42-28. ETSU responded with its own 7-0 spurt to get back to within seven, but later on N.C. Central still led by 10 at 56-46 with 7:42 left in regulation.
The Eagles’ advantage then grew to 58-46 before the Bucs started their comeback.
ETSU finished the game with a season-low four turnovers, shooting 36 percent from the floor and holding its own on the glass, as the Eagles held a 34-33 edge in the paint.
N.C. Central finished the game shooting 46 percent from the floor and 44 percent from the 3-point line. The Eagles’ 50 percent effort (6-of-12) at the foul line was critical to the outcome, especially late in the contest when the Eagles went 1-of-4 at the charity stripe over the last two minutes of the game.
The Bucs will be home again to take on SoCon foe Wofford on Thursday night, with tip set for 7 p.m. inside Freedom Hall. For more on ETSU men’s basketball throughout the 2014-15 season, visit ETSUBucs.com and click on the men’s hoops link.