Bucs avoid upset

Second-half rally enables ETSU to oust feisty Furman

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR STAFF
wholtsclaw@starhq.com

   NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. -- The East Tennessee State Buccaneers weren't laughing at the scoreboard during the middle of their first Southern Conference tournament game.
   Furman frosh Eric Webb's six first-half treys, followed by a pair of trifectas from Maleye Ndoye, created a nine-point second-half lead for the Paladins.
   From there, the Bucs started playing defense.
   Keyed by strong runs, the Bucs rallied behind Tim Smith and nine late points from Jerald Fields to pull out a 94-84 victory at the North Charleston Coliseum.
   The Bucs will meet Davidson tonight at 6 p.m.
   "I feel like we were up against one of the best teams in the conference," said ETSU head coach Murry Bartow.
   "We've been doing this all year. The guys played hard in the second half and we pulled it out."
   The Bucs trailed by two at the end of the first half after losing a ten point lead.
   "At halftime, I went in and wrote down 49," he said. "Obviously, as a defensive-minded coach I didn't like to see the other team scoring 49 points."
   Webb and Ndoye were a consistent problem before the defense of freshman Travis Strong and James Anthony led to a few missed shots.
   ETSU (25-5) took over with a much-involved crowd, making several key shots down the stretch, much like they have all season long.
   Buckets from Smith, Zakee Wadood and Ben Rhoda helped the Bucs fight back from the deficit to take a lead.
   The Bucs struggled to hold on to it, with the Paladins creeping closely behind. But Fields rallied late with the help of his team on the charity stripe to help the team put it away.
   "We knew we had to come out and play hard because they were a good team." said Fields. "Once we were down, we knew we had to come back because we didn't want to lose. It kind of fueled us at the end."
   Webb finished the game with 28 points, 20 of which came in the first half. Ndoye finished with 22, while
   Robby Bostain contributed 12 for Furman, which finished its season with an 18-11 mark.
   "Webb showed why he should've been on the all-freshman team," said Furman coach Larry Davis. "This was a great game that should've been televised because it shows how competitive our conference truly is. ETSU is a very good team and they got the best of us late."
   The Bucs opened on a 14-4 run before Furman started rallying behind their twosome.
   Brad Nuckles contributed a pair of treys, but it wasn't enough to stop the Paladins from taking a lead with under nine minutes to go in the first half.
   Both teams swapped the lead late in the first stanza before Nick Sanders gave the purple unit the lead at the half.
   The Bucs couldn't overcome the hump at the beginning of the first half, which saw Bostain and Moussa Diagne help fuel Furman's lead with Ndoye and Webb. Smith hit a pair of big treys to take a lead and the Bucs fought from there.
   "This was a must-win," said Smith, who led the Bucs with 24 points. It was his third 20-point game in the conference tourney play.
   "Any first game in the tournament is a must win because you don't want to go home," he said. "We want to be here until the championship, so I'm going to play hard down to the buzzer."
   A strong second half has been the key to many ETSU games all season long. According to Zakee Wadood, it went according to play.
   "We came out knowing we had to step things up in the second half," said the conference MVP, who broke Greg Dennis' all-time school block record (formerly 173) with 175 after two in Thursday's game.
   "It was disappointing to be down, but we played like we have all year," he said. "We've got to come out and play harder tomorrow."
   Wadood finished with 14 points and 11 boards, while Fields tallied 15 points, Rhoda and Nuckles each dropped nine apiece in the game.
   BUC NOTES: Webb had a strong two-game series in the tournament, having scored 13 points the previous night against Western Carolina.
   The Bucs had 10 steals in the game and forced 20 turnovers, only giving up 11. While Furman outmanned the boards (43 to 36), the Bucs shot a little better in the second half.
   ETSU had a large fan following, including a lot of students due to the school's spring break.
   One statistic that jumps off the page is Furman's free throw shooting, which stood at 92 percent in the game.
   In the Bucs' last two outings, Smith has taken 54 shots, which has to be some sort of school record.