Bucs draw Demon Deacons in NCAA

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   JOHNSON CITY-- Jerald Fields was a happy man when he saw East Tennessee State's NCAA Tournament bracket pop up on the television screen Sunday night.
   The 15th seeded Buccaneers will take on No. 2 seed Wake Forest in the East Region on Friday afternoon in Tampa, Florida, which is Fields' home state.
   "It feels great," Fields said Sunday night at the Millennium Center. "I'm going back home. There's no better feeling than going back home and playing in front of your family and your friends."
   The Bucs may actually have the momentum going into this contest. ETSU won the Southern Conference Tournament last week, while the Demon Deacons fell in the ACC semifinals to eventual runner-up N.C. State.
   But Fields doesn't believe that will matter. Many times, teams that lose in the conference tournament play better in the NCAA's.
   Fields thinks the ACC regular season champs will be out for the Bucs.
   "Once you lose like that you're always hungry to get that next win, so I think they're really going to be coming out to make a statement in this first round, but we are too," Fields said. "Hopefully, we will come out with a win."
   With ACC Player-of-the-Year Josh Howard leading the way, the Deacons won their first outright ACC Championship since the Billy Packer era.
   The Deacons' upset in the ACC Tourney makes ETSU guard Ryan Lawson even more wary of the boys from Winston-Salem.
   "Wake Forest is a really good basketball team," Lawson said. "They've got the ACC Player-of-the-Year in Josh Howard, so that's a tough matchup on the perimeter. They've got real quick guards, so it will be a real interesting matchup.
   The matchup with the Demon Deacons will be very special for point guard Tim Smith, who played against two of the Wake Forest players in high school.
   Smith went up against Wake guards Taron Downey and Justin Gray in prep ball, so the electrifying point guard is very familiar with them.
   Smith thinks this is a very good matchup for the Bucs.
   "It's a favorable matchup, because they're not all that big," Smith said. It's going to be some fun."
   Smith was the Freshman-of-the-Year in the SoCon this season, but here's his chance to showcase his skills in front of a national audience.
   The game will be televised by CBS-TV, the Bucs' first broadcast network game since ETSU's second round NCAA contest with Michigan in 1992.
   Smith is chomping at the bit to perform in front of a national audience.
   "We're playing a No. 2 seed, we've got to come out and play hard," Smith said. "We've got to play 40 minutes and make no mistakes."
   The Bucs watched the NCAA Selection Show in front of their fans, and waited to see who they would play.
   With ETSU being projected to be a No. 15 seed by most experts, Texas popped up on a lot of websites' projection lists. The Longhorns ended up being a No. 1 seed, so the fans at the Millennium Center pretty much knew that was out.
   Florida popped up early in the show as the No. 2 seed in the South, but a sigh of relief came out of the Buccaneer fans after Sam Houston State's name was shown under the Gators.
   Even though Fields is just happy to play in the tournament, he would have liked a matchup with his hometown team.
   "I didn't have anybody in mind, but Florida would have been a good team to play against," Fields said. "That would have been a great team to play against, since I'm from Gainesville. I just didn't want to play them in Tampa."
   Even though it's been 11 years since the Bucs' last appearance in the big dance, tradition is on their side. The last time ETSU made the tournament, it upset Arizona in a first round game.
   Fields wants to make even more memories for the Bucs' fans to treasure this year.
   "We're bringing tradition back to East Tennessee," Fields said. "All we've heard is 'thank you for bringing the tradition back.' We finally did it. It doesn't get any better than this."
   While the Bucs have to put forth a spectacular effort if they're going to duplicate what the '92 team did, Lawson wants to put this team into Buccaneer history.
   "We're trying to make a name for ourselves," Lawson said. "We're trying to make a name for these guys, and who's on this team right now. Expectations are high. We want to win, and we're going down to win. We'll be ready to play."