Bucs avoid Stetson upset bid, survive first round 77-61
Thursday, March 1, 2007

            JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (March 1, 2007) - Top-seeded East Tennessee State survived a scare from No.8 Stetson, but the Buccaneers rallied down the stretch to record a 77-61 win in first-round action of the 2007 General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Men's Basketball Championship at Memorial Center.


            The Bucs' Courtney Pigram (Memphis) showed why he was selected as Atlantic Sun Conference Player of the Year. The sophomore guard poured in a tourney-high 31 points, grabbed nine rebounds and had four assists. He took over in the second half with 19 points and carried his team while the Hatters were making a mad run of their own.


            ETSU (23-8) controlled the first half of play and owned a 35-26 lead at the break, but the end of the half belonged to Stetson and that momentum carried over into the second.


            Pigram scored ETSU's first six points of the half to keep the Bucs ahead by eight with 17:00 showing on the clock, but Stetson was scoring on every possession and really got hot for a five-minute stretch.


            Gabe McMillen drained a 3-pointer with 16:31 remaining to start a 16-4 Hatters run. In that stretch, Collins Okafor, Garfield Blair and Tim Lang each converted conventional three-point plays. When the run was over, the Hatters led 49-45.


            ETSU rallied the troops and bounced back. Just moments later, Mike Smith (Vandalia, Mo.) made two free throws to tie the game and Andrew Reed put the Bucs back on top with a dunk on an offensive rebound.


            That seemed to energize the team and the partisan crowd. The Bucs defense held Stetson without a field goal for 7:02 and to just 10 points in the last 10 minutes. Meanwhile, Smith and Pigram were on fire. The young duo combined for 17 points the rest of the way.


            The game was sealed from the free-throw line where ETSU made 23-of-26. The Bucs also outrebounded the hatters 36-27.


            Smith rallied from a shaky start to finish with 14 points, four rebounds and three assists. Brad Nuckles (Council, Va.), a question mark coming into the game because of a shoulder injury, looked just fine, and ended with nine points and eight boards.


            The Bucs looked as if they might run away with the game in the first half, methodically building a 13-point lead. Struggling at the time from beyond the 3-point line, Pigram still knocked down two triples and found other ways to help his team. He scored 12 in the half and dished off three assists,

including an alley-oop passes to Smith and Eryk Thomas.


            Unlike their last trip to Johnson City, Stetson didn't let the Bucs run away and hide. A quick strike from ETSU late in the half put the Bucs up 29-16, but the Hatters finished off the opening period with a spurt of their own. A.J. Smith hit a pair of running jumpers and Collins Okafor connected

twice in the post to keep the intermission deficit in single digits.


            Stetson hit just 3 of its first 17 tries from the field, but rallied to finish at 44 percent.


            Blair had 17 points and nine rebounds to lead the Hatters (11-19) while A.J. Smith added 16 and Okafor 14.