SPARTANBURG, S.C. — East Tennessee State continues to struggle to put together two good halves of basketball. Or two wins.
Torrey Craig scored 23 points, and South Carolina Upstate pulled away early in the second half on its way to an 88-71 victory Monday night at the Hodge Center.
It was the Spartans’ third straight win over the Bucs here, and their fourth in the last five games as the teams reached the midpoint of the Atlantic Sun Conference schedule.
The loss left the Bucs at 4-5 in the conference and 6-16 overall. They still haven’t posted back-to-back victories this season.
“It’s extremely frustrating,” said junior forward Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard, who had 16 points and 11 rebounds against the Spartans. “We understand we’re a young team, with only one senior playing, and we lack leadership and experience. But we have to start putting things together.”
The Spartans (6-3, 12-10) seem to be finding themselves as February approaches. They’re now one of five teams tied for first place.
“It’s been really crazy,” said Craig, the junior forward who was preseason player of the year in the A-Sun. “A couple of those games caught us by surprise, but I think we’re more aware now. We’re ready for the second half of the conference.”
Craig scored 15 of his points in the first half, including four 3-pointers, but Upstate trailed 34-33 at the break. Plenty of help came his way in the second half, and the tide turned quickly.
Jodd Maxey sandwiched two baskets and three free throws around a Jarvis Jones jumper, and the Spartans were on their way to a 13-2 run over the first four minutes.
The Bucs cut the 10-point deficit back to four twice, and then came the key sequence of events.
After a 3-pointer by Rashawn Rembert made it 51-47, Craig was left open for a three on the other end. The Bucs turned the ball over on the inbounds pass, and Adrian Rodgers stroked another three. Upstate’s lead was back to 10.
Then Hunter Harris picked up his fourth foul on an illegal screen, and Ricardo Glenn scored inside for the Spartans. It was eight straight points in 51 seconds.
Another 12-2 run sunk the Bucs, who didn’t get back-to-back scores in the last 9:25.
“We played a decent first half and an abysmal second. The start of the second half was just a disaster,” said ETSU coach Murry Bartow. “That’s the way a lot of our games have been going — one good half, one bad. It really revolves around defense. Our great comebacks, we’ve played great defense. Tonight it couldn’t have been worse.”
The Spartans shot 61 percent in the second half and 52 for the game. They had assists on 23 of 28 field goals and committed just nine turnovers.
The Bucs shot 42 percent and committed 17 turnovers.
Jones led the Bucs with 19 points on 8-of-16 shooting. Lester Wilson had 16 points — 12 on 3-pointers — and six boards, but he managed just a basket in the last 14 minutes.
It was a very quiet night for Hunter Harris, the Bucs’ junior forward. Coming off a season-high 25 points in a win over North Florida two nights earlier, Harris scored just three in a foul-plagued performance.
He played only 18 minutes, attempting two shots, before being called for a blocking foul and going to the sidelines with 3:21 left.
Point guard Petey McClain also fouled out — getting his fourth and fifth 31 seconds apart — on a night full of disputed calls.
Glenn finished with 16 points and eight rebounds for Upstate, while Ty Greene had 14 points and Maxey finished with 11.
The Bucs will open the second half of the league schedule with home games against Northern Kentucky on Thursday night and Lipscomb on Saturday.