ETSU eliminated in gutwrenching fashion

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   NORTH CHARLESTON S.C. -- College of Charleston's Michael Benton had five blocks against East Tennessee State Friday night. The fifth one probably kept the Cougars in the Southern Conference tournament.
   Benton blocked a last-second shot by Tiras Wade to secure College of Charleston a 76-75 victory over the Buccaneers in an overtime thriller during quarterfinal-round action at the Mountain Dew Southern Conference Tournament, which is being held at the North Charleston Coliseum.
   After Dimeco Childress was met by Cougar defenders and had the ball knocked out of bounds with 0.8 seconds left, the Bucs were forced into a desperation catch and shoot situation.
   The ball went to Wade, but he was met by Benton, who blocked the shot to seal the deal for Charleston.
   "I saw him jump, and I had to jump with him," Benton said.
   Charleston head coach John Kresse thought the stop was a fitting end to an exciting game.
   "We got the final stop to end 45 minutes of great hoops," Kresse said.
   ETSU head coach Ed DeChellis thought Benton and the Cougars made the right play at the right time.
   "It was a great college basketball game," DeChellis said. "They made a play obviously to win the game."
   DeChellis and Kresse were in agreement on a true statement. It was definitely a great basketball game.
   The end of regulation was just as thrilling as the end of overtime. ETSU, which trailed by as many as 15 points in the first half, was holding a 62-57 lead with 2:51 left to go in regulation.
   The Cougars did respond, as six straight points by Jeff Bolton and key defensive stops put Charleston up 63-62 with 1:45 left.
   ETSU rallied back with a bucket by Jerald Fields to put the Bucs up 64-63. But that lead was short-lived, as Leighton Bowie took it the hole and scored to give Charleston the 65-64 edge. Bowie was fouled on the play, and hit the free-throw attempt to make it a 66-64 edge with 1:12 to go.
   The score remained 66-64 with eight seconds left when Childress missed a layup that would have tied it, but Wade was there with the rebound and called timeout with five second remaining.
   After the inbounds pass, Childress put up a three that missed. But fortunately for the Bucs, Fields got the rebound and he put the ball in the basket to send the game into overtime tied at 66-66.
   Charleston regained the momentum early on in the overtime, and led 76-73 with 1:11 to go. But these Buccaneers still had some fight in them, and would not give up easily.
   Wade hit a big bucket with 45 seconds remaining to cut the Cougar advantage down to one, but the Bucs couldn't make it any closer.
   Wade and the Bucs did get off a shot that had a good chance of going in if it hadn't been blocked.
   "I thought the shot was going in," Fields said about Wade's failed attempt.
   DeChellis was very disappointed about the loss, but had just great admiration for how his team played.
   "I'm so proud of this team," DeChellis said. "We busted our butts this season to put together a great run. Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be. It's a tough moment for us."
   It was really remarkable that the game became as tight as it was at the end after the way the first half went.
   Charleston shot 50 percent in the first half, and led at one point by a score of 36-21.
   The Bucs did make a little run at the end of the half to go into the locker room trailing 38-29.
   ETSU started the second half on fire, as it opened the frame on a 16-2 run to lead 45-40 at the 14:18 mark.
   Things did look very bleak for ETSU early on, but DeChellis knew his young men weren't going to quit.
   "I think Charleston played very well in the first half," DeChellis said. "But I never thought in my wildest dreams they would blow us out. I knew we were going to make a run."
   Bolton hurt the Bucs early and often in this one, as he finished with 33 points. Wade was the leading scorer for ETSU with 24 points.
   Fields, Childress and Ryan Lawson also hit double figures for ETSU, scoring 18, 16 and 15 points, respectively.
   Unless the Bucs get invited to the NIT, Childress was playing his last game for the Bucs.
   DeChellis couldn't hide his appreciation for one of the school's all-time greats.
   "I'm very proud of Dimeco Childress," DeChellis said. "I just can't say enough about Meco."
   And the NIT is a distinct possibility, but it's something DeChellis isn't thinking about right now.
   "We'll take the necessary steps, but right now the NIT is the farthest thing from my mind," DeChellis said. "This is the worst loss I've had at ETSU."
   ETSU NOTES:
   deg. The Bucs were playing shorthanded in the final minutes, as Lawson fouled out in the final two minutes of regulation.
   deg. The loss drops the Bucs to 18-10, which is the same record they finished last year with.
   deg. Friday's defeat continues a streak the Bucs would sure like to break. ETSU has not made it to the semifinals of the SoCon Tournament since the '94-95 season.
   deg. Friday's setback also ends the Buccaneers' eight-game winning streak. It was the eighth-longest in the nation.