Bucs wrap up A-Sun Championship, down Stetson 84-49
Thursday, February 22, 2007


                JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Feb. 22, 2007) - With a dominating defensive effort and one of its best offensive nights of the season, the ETSU men's basketball team wrapped up the regular season Atlantic Sun Conference championship and the No. 1 seed in next week's league tournament, dropping Stetson in an impressive 84-49 victory Thursday night inside Memorial Center. It is the first A-Sun men's basketball championship for the Bucs since joining the league in 2005-06.


The regional television audience on CSS witnessed the Buccaneers improve to 21-8 overall, 15-2 in A-Sun play, thanks mainly to a double-double performance from senior Brad Nuckles (Council, Va.), who posted a 19-point, 11-rebound effort. He was joined in double figures by freshman guard Mike Smith (Vandalia, Mo.) with 14 points, while sophomore guard Courtney Pigram (Memphis) netted 12, but the story of the night was the Bucs' defense, which held Stetson to just 26 percent shooting from the floor.

"I'm proud of our guys and winning the conference championship," said ETSU head coach Murry Bartow, whose team also wraps up at least a berth to the National Invitation Tournament with the league title. "This game assures us of some postseason play, even though we all want to win the tournament. I think the defense again was the key to us. It has been all year. Holding them to 26 percent shooting was big, and there are a lot of good defensive numbers on the box. We really prepared hard all week for this game and you could see that tonight."


            ETSU forced the issue in the first half, turning up the defensive pressure and not allowing the Hatters a chance to even think about an upset. The Bucs forced 10 turnovers and picked up nine steals in the opening 20 minutes, holding Stetson (11-18, 6-11) to a dismal 16 percent shooting percentage. Meanwhile, the Bucs scorched the nets for a 52 percent shooting clip, hitting on 3-of-8 from beyond the 3-point arc and 9-of-11 from the foul line. In the end, those numbers led to a sizeable 38-16 lead for the Bucs as the two teams headed into the intermission.


            In the second half, the Hatters - who led only once by two points at the 18:23 mark of the first half - used a pair of five-point runs to cut the ETSU lead to 16 at 42-26 with 13:45 left. However, from there the Bucs rolled away, outscoring the Hatters 31-13 over the next 10 minutes to take a 73-40 advantage and empty the bench in the final minutes.


            The Bucs ended the game with a highly unselfish 26 assists on the night, out-rebounding Stetson 40-29, forcing 17 Stetson turnovers and grabbing 10 steals. ETSU shot 55 percent from the floor, 38 percent from beyond the 3-point arc and 85 percent from the foul line. Nuckles' double-double was his 12th on the season and his 17th all-time, and he is now just 33 points shy of reaching 1,000 for his career.


            For Stetson, Garfield Blair was the only player to reach double figures in scoring with 11 points.


            ETSU will return to action Saturday night to wrap up regular season A-Sun play against Mercer. Game time is set for 4 p.m. inside Memorial Center.