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JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Feb. 7, 2015) – Despite leading by as many as 12 in the second half, the ETSU men’s basketball team watched Samford cap a late-game comeback when Marcus Johnson’s 3-pointer with three seconds left lifted Samford to a 71-68 win over the Buccaneers Saturday afternoon in Southern Conference hoops action at Freedom Hall.
The Bucs – who dropped to 13-10 overall, 6-7 in SoCon play – had one last opportunity to tie but senior guard Jalen Riley (Racine, Wis.) missed on a 3-point attempt as time expired. ETSU previously had a possession with 13 seconds left and the game tied at 68, but a pass from Riley to junior forward Lester Wilson (Knoxville) led to a turnover, setting up Johnson’s heroics.
“In close games you can’t make turnovers and we did, you have to hit free throws and we didn’t, and you have to make defensive stops and we made too many mistakes on that end of the floor,” said ETSU head coach Murry Bartow, whose team has now lost five of its last seven SoCon games. “The combination of all those things just snowballed on us. Give their guys credit, they made some plays and we didn’t.”
The game actually went well for the Bucs in several statistical categories, as ETSU shot 50 percent from the floor and 48 percent from 3-point range (11-of-23). However, the Bucs were uncharacteristically bad at the foul line, going just 9-of-20 for a 45-percent shooting clip.
Even so, the Bucs led by 11 following a layup by sophomore post Isaac Banks (New Orleans, La.) that made it 60-49 with 10 minutes left in the contest. Samford then used a 12-4 run to get within three at 64-61, and after the team’s swapped several baskets, the Bulldogs ultimately tied the game on a free throw by guard Darius Jones-Gibson with 40 seconds left.
That set up the Bucs’ possession where Riley and Wilson were unable to connect on a pass. Johnson then followed with his game-winning shot.
For the game, five Samford players reached double figures led by 13 from Jones-Gibson. For the Bucs, Riley finished with a game-high 20, while senior guard Rashawn Rembert (Tampa, Fla.) netted 16, sophomore guard A.J. Merriweather (Jackson) added 14 and Wilson finished with 13.
ETSU opened the game with an efficient offensive attack and quickly scored 12 points to take a 12-4 lead five minutes into the game. Unfortunately for the Bucs, the Bulldogs’ pressure defense began to force some turnovers and quick shots by ETSU, allowing Samford to outscore the Bucs 25-8 over the next nine minutes of action.
Trailing 29-20 with 6:35 left in the first half, the Bucs rallied with a 14-4 run of their own to tie the game at 34-34 by the intermission. In the first half, Wilson led the way with 13 points, while Riley added 11. ETSU shot 50 percent from 3-point range (6-of-12) before the break, but Samford held a 20-14 advantage on the glass.
For the game, Samford out-rebounded the Bucs 35-25 and shot 71 percent from the foul line. Both teams committed 14 turnovers and ETSU outscored the Bulldogs 21-6 on fast break points.
Samford, meanwhile, outscored the Bucs 22-18 in the paint and held a 19-16 advantage in points off turnovers. The Bucs dished out 17 assists compared to 14 from Samford.
The Bucs will hit the road to take on UNC Greensboro in Southern Conference play on Thursday at 7 p.m. For more on ETSU men’s basketball throughout the 2014-15 season, visit ETSUBucs.com and click on the men’s hoops link.