Bucs withstand 'Cats, achieve record start

Photo By Rick Harris
ETSU's Ben Rhoda works for a short-range shot.

By Wes Holtsclaw

   JOHNSON CITY -- The East Tennessee State Buccaneers are 6-0 to open a season in the Southern Conference for the first time ever.
   It might've been the great team play towards the end of their game against the Davidson Wildcats that put them over the top. Then again, it might've been luck.
   The Bucs took an eight-point lead over the Wildcats with 12:05 in the second half, then went 11 minutes and five seconds without scoring a field goal.
   Despite a late charge from the nation's top outside shooting unit, some crucial turnovers and a big pass from Ben Rhoda to Zakee Wadood with 46 seconds left in the game put the Bucs in position for victory.
   Perfection behind the charity stripe from Tim Smith and Wadood late sealed the 75-70 conference victory at the Memorial Center.
   "It was just another tough game," said ETSU head coach Murry Bartow. "A game can go either way and fortunately it went our way. We're just fortunate we've got the players we got. Our players make big plays when they have to make them."
   "It's like I tell them each day, it's a players game and players make plays," he said. "I'm not going to mention them individually, but you can't say enough about the way our guys played late."
   The game saw 14 lead changes and a series of runs from both sides. ETSU had a hard time dealing with Davidson's three-point shooting in the first half that included five out of the seven from Matt McKillop.
   The Bucs rallied behind a pair of treys from Wadood and solid inside shooting from sophomore point Smith to take a 37-35 lead into the locker room.
   ETSU held Davidson's sharp-shooter Brendan Winters to only five points in the first half.
   Davidson took an early lead in the second half behind Nick Booker and Logan Kosmalski. Winters hit some big inside shots to give Davidson a four-point lead early before Jerald Fields and Wadood came together on some big buckets.
   Wadood hit two more of his career-high four treys to help the Bucs go on top by eight, but the squad hit a dry spell after a Fields lay-in at the 12:05 mark.
   Davidson got some big three-point plays, while East Tennessee's only offense came from the charity stripe where James Anthony and Smith tried to keep themselves in the game.
   The Bucs were without a point for seven minutes as Davidson made a comeback behind Ian Johnson and McKillop to take a two-point lead.
   "Teams make runs on us for some reason," said Smith. "We just had to defend well to keep them from making a big run. We started playing good defense and that was helping us out."
   Wadood was fouled hard and made one free throw with a minute to go, but Davidson pushed the ball down to their end and ran the clock down.
   Ben Rhoda came up with a big rebound and found Wadood on the other end of the court for a big lay-in that put the Bucs back up by one with 46 seconds left.
   Said Wadood: "Rhoda got a rebound, and I streaked down the court and he found me. Luckily it went in and that kind of gave us the momentum for the rest of the night."
   "We were up by one and giving them great pressure," said Davidson head coach Bob McKillop. "We turned it over and I don't realize we knew how open (Wadood) was. It goes back to their defense and what could've been a three-point lead for us turned out to be a lead for them and it made a big difference in the game."
   After a pair of Smith free throws, Davidson pulled within one when Booker hit a deuce at the 15-second mark.
   Kenny Grant lost control of things for Davidson, missing a wide open lay-in and knocking the ball out of bounds, while Smith and Wadood added two more free shots apiece to give State the victory.
   "I was hoping in the last 45 seconds that we could at least tie or get a victory," McKillop said. "Unfortunately, we weren't able to do it. It's a tough one. They jumped out and hit their free throws at the end and that made a big difference."
   Wadood led the game with 25 points, while Smith (17 points), Fields (15 points) and Anthony (10 points) added double-digit performances for the Bucs.
   McKillop led the Wildcats with 19, while Kosmalski and Winters added 13 and 14, respectively.
   Davidson was only two of eight behind the arch in the second half due to the strong pressure ETSU added.
   "It was a matter of getting to the shooters. They have great shooters," added Wadood. "(McKillop) got us in the first half and we really couldn't find him. In the second half, we made an effort to find him and I just tip my hat off to the guards, Ben (Rhoda), James (Anthony), Travis (Strong) and Aaron (Scott) -- they did a real good job on them."
   Bartow wouldn't elaborate much on ETSU's success to this point with a big rivalry game at Appalachian State on Saturday.
   "We keep hearing about 6-0...the only thing we're worried about is Friday's practice," the coach said. "We couldn't care less about what our record is, we are just wanting to come out and practice good on Friday. If we can keep that focus, we'll be okay."
   "I put so much focus on each individual game, I couldn't tell you the name of one player on Appalachian State. Now by one or two this morning, I'll be able to tell you a lot about Appy State," he added.
   "The focus was so much on Davidson (this week)," he said. "I know it's a big game for our fans. Obviously, I hope we have a lot of support over there on Saturday at 1 p.m., which I'm sure we will. It's not an easy place to go in and win. It will be another tough game."
   The ETSU players are ready for Saturday's game after a letdown performance at the Holmes Center last season.
   "It's like I said earlier, it's an all-out war every time we play Appy," said Fields. "We don't like them and they don't like us, so get ready for a battle on Saturday."
   Added Smith: "We just got to come out with some energy because last year we lost to them on their home court and they blew it up. We didn't come with any energy. We've got to play hard like we always do."