JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- On a day when Hunter Harris was the offensive star, he made a defensive play to save the game.
Harris scored a game-high 22 points as East Tennessee State beat Jacksonville 61-58 Saturday, and his block of a potential tying 3-pointer by Keith McDougald was the talk of the locker room afterward.
“That block was the biggest play of the game,” Harris said. “He’s a good 3-point shooter. I remember at home he killed us on threes so I wanted to get out there and block it. I knew he would hit it if nobody contested it.”
ETSU was leading 59-56 with 25 seconds remaining when McDougald went up from the top of the key. Harris, playing down low, sprinted out, jumped high and swatted the shot. He grabbed the ball and was fouled.
“He just instinctively did that on his own,” ETSU coach Murry Bartow said. “He really came out of position to make that play.”
Moments before Harris’ block, John Walton made a pair of free throws to put ETSU up 60-56.
“He missed four the other night at North Florida, so he probably wasn’t feeling really good,” Bartow said. “But to step to the line, one-point game under a minute, and make those two was really big.”
A remarkably close second half featured five lead changes on five possessions at one point and then three ties over the last five minutes before Harris put the Bucs up for good when his two foul shots broke a 53-53 tie with 1:54 left.
Over the final 11 minutes, neither team led by more than three points until the closing seconds when Jacksonville was forced to foul and ETSU was making its free throws.
“It really was a great team effort,” Bartow said.
Harris made 7 of 10 shots and 8 of 10 free throws in his second-most productive game of the season.
“I wanted to be aggressive in the post,” said Harris, who had 25 points against North Florida earlier in the season. “I wanted to post harder and get easy baskets and draw fouls. It feels really good. The bus ride’s gonna be real good going home.”
Harris played the final 5:43 trying to be careful after picking up his fourth foul on a careless reach-in.
“That fourth foul wasn’t too good,” he said. “It was just a reaction thing. I knew the block was risky, but I was willing to take that risk because we wanted to win the game so bad.”
Jarvis Jones added 11 points and Rashawn Rembert had 10.
Kordario Fleming led Jacksonville with 18 points. McDougald and Jarvis Haywood each had 11. McDougald made 1 of 7 from 3-point range.
The Bucs forced 20 turnovers and turned them into 19 points.
“We turned the ball over tonight,” Jacksonville coach Cliff Warren said. “If we get shots, I think we make them. It’s unfortunate, but they did a good job of turning us over. Give them credit, they got deflections.”
For the second game in a row, the Bucs were out-rebounded badly. Jacksonville won the battle of the boards, 34-21. During the two-game trip to Jacksonville, ETSU was out-rebounded 81-55.
ETSU shot 54 percent from the field and held Jacksonville to 40 percent. The Dolphins were 1 for 14 on 3-pointers.
The Bucs close the regular season Friday night when they play host to USC-Upstate in the A-Sun’s CSS game of the week.