Bucs conquer Keydets

By Wes Holtsclaw

   Despite the ongoing off-court distractions involving sophomore Tiras Wade and two consecutive conference losses, the East Tennessee State Buccaneers knew what they had to do to overcome their recent shortcomings.
   The Bucs (11-8, 5-3) said good-bye to the VMI Keydets in their last SoCon regular season go-round with a solid inside game from Zakee Wadood and Jerald Fields, earning a 93-76 victory at the Memorial Center.
   "I am very, very proud of the team and the effort they displayed tonight," said ETSU coach Ed DeChellis. "We're not very confident right now, but we played tight and not to play a mistake.
   "We did a good job of getting the ball to our posts and where we needed. Jerald and Zakee did a good job tonight. I'm proud of the team and our effort."
   A big key in the contest for the Bucs was their performance from the charity stripe. They hit 39 of 47, while VMI (6-13, 1-7) only netted 19.
   "They hit big ones," said VMI coach Bob McKillop. "I'll give them some credit, that's a lot of free throws in a game. I thought our numbers were good enough to win the game, but boards were also a big key and we didn't show any composure."
   The Runnin' Roos will enter the Big South Conference next season, making this their last go-round in the mini-dome for a while.
   "Johnson City has been good to us, sooner-or-later we'll be back," he said. "It will be under different circumstances."
   After the nation's top sophomore, Jason Conley, left the squad for Missouri, the Keydets have been looking towards other players. Radee Skipworth was their player on Tuesday, netting a career-high 33-points, booming over the 1,000-point mark in his career.
   He was a big key in a tight five-point game early, but was singled out in the second half while ETSU launched into a comfortable lead.
   "Skipworth is a good player, but he had to carry the bulk of the load," said McKillop. "We just need some people to get defensive plays so we can spread it out like (ETSU) did."
   "We came in here and didn't know what to expect with Wade," said Skipworth. "Our plan was really based around him, but they played well tonight. The floor slowed us down and the pace was slower than we would've liked."
   Skipworth had 18 of his points in the first half, also getting assistance from Richard Little and two big treys from Zohn Burden, who played in his first collegiate game.
   The Bucs took a sound lead after the first minutes and really went over the top behind Fields and Wadood's dual 15-point efforts with a 45-40 lead going into the second half.
   Tim Smith made four big buckets for State, which appeared somewhat drained mentally.
   VMI came out blasting towards the Bucs in the second frame after some big plays from Skipworth and Ben Rand, cutting an ETSU lead from 11 to one early.
   The Bucs rallied back behind Ryan Lawson and shifted the tide after a huge alley-oop from Ben Rhoda to Wadood.
   Rhoda and James Anthony came up with some big buckets for ETSU, which led by as much as 20 courtesy of solid shooting from the line, winding out a solid win.
   "It finally felt good out there," said Jerald Fields, who had 21 for the Bucs. "I broke 21 out there and Zakee had a big game. I felt healthy and didn't have any pain finally. Everything just fell for us tonight and we knocked down the free throws."
   Zakee Wadood did everything he could out in the contest, and was rewarded with a career-high of his own with 29 points.
   "We just wanted to switch the momentum," said Wadood. "They got in some quick points on us, but we got some big shots leading up to that slam."
   "It was a very big win for us," he said. "We had two losses in a row and we didn't lay down. We played an excellent game and hopefully we can build on this for the rest of our season."
   Smith and Rhoda added 15 and 11 points for ETSU, while Little tallied 10 for the Keydets.
   Despite the loss, the millennium mark was a nice pick-up for VMI's Skipworth.
   "It's a great honor," he said. "I wanted to do it at home, but it's just the way the chips fell for us."
   Tiras Wade was in attendance for the game and is expected to return to the Bucs within their next two games. The Bucs hold a 40-13 advantage all-time over the Keydets and resumed their spot leading the nation in steals with 10 last night.