ROCK HILL, S.C. (Nov. 24, 2014) – In a matchup of teams that are expected to battle for conference titles in their respective conferences, the ETSU men’s basketball team made multiple defensive stops down the stretch and senior guard Jalen Riley (Racine, Wis.) scored seven decisive points in the final minute to give the Buccaneers a 69-64 road win over Winthrop Monday night inside the Winthrop Coliseum.
With the game tied at 61 and just 49 seconds left, Riley connected on a deep 3-pointer as the shot clock was expiring and later hit four straight free throws to ice the victory. Despite shooting just 31 percent from the floor on a tough offensive night, the Bucs out-rebounded Winthrop 43-40, turned the ball over just 10 times and held the Eagles to 39 percent shooting on their home floor to get the victory.
“We preach things like rebounding, turnovers and defense all the time – and those were the three things we did well to get this win,” said Bartow, whose team improved to 3-1 on the season. “I couldn’t be prouder of our team. Winthrop is a good, well-coached team and they’ve won 24 of their last 27 in this building, so to get this win even though we didn’t play our best offensively says a lot about this team.”
Riley’s heroics came after he had struggled to shoot just 1-for-8 from the field before hitting what was the decisive shot of the game. He finished with 10 points on the night, while junior forward Lester Wilson (Knoxville) scored a team-high 20 and senior guard Rashawn Rembert (Tampa, Fla.) netted 16.
Wilson was a difference maker in the first half and helped stake the Bucs to a 32-28 lead at the break. Despite two quick fouls and heading to the bench early on, Bartow gambled by putting Wilson back in the game with over 12 minutes left before the intermission and he responded with 14 first-half points – thanks mainly to a 4-for-6 effort from beyond the arc.
Along with Wilson’s offensive output, the Bucs’ zone defense perplexed the Eagles, holding them to a 39 percent shooting effort from the floor and 33 percent mark from 3-point range before intermission. ETSU also forced nine Winthrop turnovers and out-rebounded the Eagles 20-18 before halftime.
After the break, Winthrop found a new rhythm on offense and opened with a 15-3 run to take their largest lead of the game at 43-35 with 15:12 left in regulation. During that span the Bucs did not have a field goal, but finally broke that string thanks to a 3-pointer by Riley that made it 43-39 with 12:49 left.
Riley’s basket ignited the Bucs from outside, as Rembert hit three straight 3-pointers and sophomore A.J. Merriweather (Jackson) added a fourth to power a 15-7 spurt and put ETSU back in front 54-50 with 6:20 left in the game. Winthrop answered at that point with a 7-0 run to make it 59-54, but the Bucs battled back again and tied the game at 61 thanks to a pair of free throws by Rembert with 2:30 left.
Making multiple stops and keeping Winthrop from making a field goal for a four-minute stretch at the end, Riley ultimately made it 64-61 on his 3-pointer with 49 seconds left. Later on, Winthrop did make it interesting when Keon Johnson’s air-balled 3-pointer found the hands of teammate Keon Moore, who scored and was fouled on the play, making it 65-64 on his foul shot. However, Riley was fouled and hit his two free throws, and was later fouled again when another Winthrop 3-pointer missed the mark.
Moore finished with a game-high 24 points and posted a double-double with 10 rebounds to lead Winthrop’s attack, while teammate Andrew Smith pitched in 12 points.
For the Bucs, sophomore guard Devin Harris (Tampa, Fla.) also had a solid game with nine points and eight rebounds. As a team, the Bucs also shot 73 percent from the foul line.
The Bucs will enjoy some time off for the Thanksgiving holiday before returning to action next Monday night on the road at Morehead State. That game in Morehead, Ky., is set for a 7 p.m. tip time. For more on ETSU men’s basketball throughout the 2014-15 season, visit ETSUBucs.com and click on the men’s hoops link.