Lawson burns Western

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF

   CULLOWHEE, N.C. -- Letting East Tennessee State guard Ryan Lawson shoot the basketball Monday night was as dangerous as pouring gasoline in an oven.
   Either way, you were going to get burned.
   Lawson scored a career-high 32 points in East Tennessee State's 86-76 victory over the Western Carolina Catamounts at the Ramsey Center to give the Buccaneers sole possession of third place in the Southern Conference's North Division.
   Lawson, a former standout at Cherokee High School in Rogersville, came into this game struggling. He was only averaging 7.7 points-per-game before Monday night, but shot 10-of-13 from the field and 6-of-9 from three-point land.
   "There's only one way to go," Lawson said. "You've got to go back up. You either go up or you quit. It felt good tonight, so I kept shooting."
   Western Carolina head coach Steve Shurina found out that on some nights, it's just not a good thing to leave Lawson open.
   "He took way too many uncontested shots," Shurina said. "When we got out on him, we caused him to miss. But when we weren't guarding him at all it was like target practice. He was just standing there knocking them down."
   ETSU head coach Ed DeChellis thought Lawson was a big reason for the Buccaneer victory.
   "Ryan Lawson obviously played great," DeChellis said. "He made big shots, and when you make shots on the road you're probably going to win. We're fortunate that he made shots tonight. He made a basket when we needed to have a basket, but then everybody else chipped in when we needed a basket. It was a great, great team effort. I'm really, really proud of these kids."
   None of Lawson's baskets were probably bigger than the one he made with 2:11 to go. ETSU was only ahead 76-73 at the time, but Lawson's trifecta gave the Bucs a 79-73 edge. The Bucs were never threatened after that point.
   "The guys were looking for someone to step up and make a shot to get us going, and put us over the edge," Lawson said. "I went ahead and pulled it, and luckily it fell."
   It was tight game throughout, but ETSU's biggest scare may have come with 7:30 to go in the contest. That's when freshman sensation Tiras Wade fouled out, leaving the Bucs without one of their main guns for the home stretch.
   But the Bucs manage to hold on by coming up with a big basket or a big defensive stop when they needed to. The Bucs extended their lead to 70-61 with 6:24 to go in the contest, and never let Western get any closer than three points.
   "We made stops on the defensive end when we had to tonight, and knocked down shots," Lawson said. "That wins games for you."
   The lead changed 10 times in the first half, with the Bucs holding a 42-38 advantage at the intermission. The Bucs scored the first five points of the second half, and never trailed in the frame.
   SoCon Freshman-of-the-Year candidate Kevin Martin had another big night for Western Carolina. He scored 28 points on 8-of-19 shooting from the field.
   "We didn't match up with him well on the zone," Lawson said. "I think we would have done a lot better with him if we had played him man. But he's a good shooter. He got open in the zone and knocked them down."
   ETSU totally dominated the boards in this one, as the Bucs outrebounded the Catamounts 41-26. Zakee Wadood tallied 11 rebounds, while Jerald Fields had nine.
   Wadood also scored 14 points, while Fields and Wade each had 12.
   But this night belonged to Lawson, and it's one the junior will not soon forget.
   "Definitely," Lawson said when asked if this was his best night as a Buccaneer. "Especially on the offensive end. I think we've got some more to give on the defensive end, and we'll start on that the next game.
   That next game is this Saturday against first-place Davidson. The Bucs lost 73-66 in the first meeting, but have the Wildcats at home this time around.
   And the Buccaneers are playing much better now. They've won three straight to improve to 6-5 in the SoCon and 13-9 overall.
   Lawson likes the Buccaneers' chances.
   "I feel great," Lawson said. "We'll be ready."