Two days after grinding for every point in a win at Northern Kentucky, the East Tennessee State basketball team returned to form Saturday and raced past Lipscomb 96-88 in a wild shootout at Allen Arena.
Junior guard Jalen Riley scored a career-high 30 points, and the Bucs got just enough stops down the stretch to snap the Bison’s four-game win streak. The contest featured 15 ties and 27 lead changes.
“That was fun,” said Riley, the former junior-college transfer whose previous high this season was 28 points. “I love shootouts like this, but it always comes down to defense at the end. We got the job done there when we had to.”
Using a mix of slashing moves to the basket and long jumpers, Riley was almost flawless on the offensive end. He made all 12 free throws he attempted and went 7 of 10 from the field, with four 3-pointers.
The last one was a dagger, coming from the top of the key with the Bucs leading by three and two minutes remaining. Suddenly their advantage was six, and the Bison never got closer than five the rest of the way.
How good was Riley?
“Not only did he get 30 points, but he was very efficient with the ball,” said ETSU coach Murry Bartow. “He really carried us.”
ETSU won for the fifth time in six games to improve to 14-11 overall and 7-5 in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Lipscomb fell to 11-13, 6-7.
The Bucs had five scorers in double figures with 10 minutes still remaining.
Rashawn Rembert finished with 21 points, while Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard had 16, Lester Wilson 13 and A.J. Merriweather 12. KGG was 5 of 5 from the field, with seven rebounds, before fouling out in the final minute. Merriweather had eight rebounds and three steals.
J.C. Hampton, the hero of the first matchup between the teams, hit seven 3-pointers and led the Bison with 22 points. The freshman guard didn’t score in the last 13 minutes, however, after picking up his fourth foul.
Malcolm Smith had his way inside, collecting 27 points and five rebounds. Lipscomb also got 11 points from his brother, Martin Smith, and 10 from Khion Sankey.
The Bucs shot almost 70 percent from the field in the first half and scored 50 points -- and led by just two. It was their highest-scoring first half in three years.
Considering they allowed just 50 points to Northern Kentucky in a 14-point win Thursday night, the change of pace was dramatic. A crowd of 4,078 was wildly entertained most of the way.
“We knew it might be a frenetic game,” said Bartow. “Both teams have really been scoring the ball well, and it turned into a track meet, up and down.”
The Bucs cooled off to 52 percent shooting after intermission and finished at 61.4, a season high. Both teams were averaging over 75 points a game, and they passed that mark with over seven minutes left.
Casey Alexander, Lipscomb’s first-year head coach, saw the shootout coming early.
“We’ve played better recently because we’ve defended with a lot of purpose,” he said. “Trading baskets like we did tonight doesn’t do much for the approach we’re trying to take with this program.”
As for Riley, a 6-foot, 150-pounder, Alexander said, “He played with great confidence. He felt like he could drive it whenever he wanted. You have to give him credit.”
The teams have played a string of compelling, free-flowing games since ETSU joined the A-Sun in 2005. They have often gone down to the last minute, if not the last possession.
Hampton made a jumper with four seconds left in Johnson City a month ago to lift Lipscomb to an 82-80 victory. That gave the Bison a split of the last 10 games in the series, with five of them decided by two points or less.
“It’s a high-scoring affair every time we get together,” said Rembert. “They’re really good offensively, and we know we have to answer that. This game was like a breath of fresh air. The other night we couldn’t buy a basket, and tonight it looked like it was 10 feet wide.”
Free throws again figured prominently in the winning recipe for the Bucs. The league leader for the season made 35 of 41 (85 percent), while Lipscomb was 17 of 25. Rembert was 11 of 12 after missing one in the final minute.
Riley and Rembert each came into the contest shooting over 84 percent from the stripe. Riley now has 113 makes in 25 games.
“When I was little, I was told that free throws are free,” said Riley. “I’ve taken that to heart. I try to get to the line often and make them.”
The Bucs had only a pair of road wins when they left Johnson City on Wednesday. They’ve now doubled their total as they prepare to host USC Upstate on Monday night in a make-up game from Feb. 3.