The points came easy for the East Tennessee State basketball team for a while Saturday in the Dome.
When the going got tough at the end, the Bucs turned to Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard.
The senior forward scored seven of his team’s last 11 points, capping the effort with the winning basket with eight seconds left in a 76-75 thriller against Jacksonville.
Showing his agility at 6-6 and 250 pounds, Gadsden-Gilliard took a pass from the right wing and sliced between two defenders as he dribbled to the basket. His soft shot off the glass fell through as Jarvis Haywood was whistled for his fourth foul.
“It was a designed play to get me the ball on the wing,” said Gadsden-Gilliard. “Rashawn (Rembert) made a great pass that led me right to the rim.”
He couldn’t complete the three-point play, however, and the Dolphins had a chance to win at the other end. They wanted to get another shot by Haywood, the Atlantic Sun Conference’s leading scorer, but he was trapped and had to shuffle a pass at the top of the key to Vince Martin, whose desperate 3-pointer bounced off the front of the rim at the horn.
“We’ve been in a lot of close games, and fortunately this one fell our way,” said ETSU coach Murry Bartow. “We ran a set at the end to get (Gadsden-Gilliard) a touch. He’s a guy with toughness who can go make a play. He cherished the moment he was in.”
Gadsden-Gilliard finished with 17 points and six assists. Some big baskets came late, after the Dolphins had seemingly seized the momentum.
They had overcome a 14-point deficit late in the first half and moved in front 56-53 on a 3-pointer by Marcel White with 11:54 left. That was part of a 22-7 run by the Dolphins, who increased their advantage to five.
The Bucs battled back to tie the game, and it was up for grabs the rest of the way. There were seven lead changes in the last six minutes.
Haywood slashed to the basket and scored to make it 73-70 with 1:40 remaining, but Gadsden-Gilliard answered with a pair of free throws. Jalen Riley then gave the Bucs the lead when he inbounded the ball off White’s backside, retrieved the carom and laid it in the basket.
“It was just a read on his part,” said Bartow. “It was a great play.”
But there was still work to be done for the Bucs.
Haywood drew a fifth foul on Hunter Harris and made two free throws with 24 seconds left to give Jacksonville a 75-74 lead and set up the late drama. The 6-4 sophomore from Charlotte finished with 23 points, but it wasn’t quite enough.
“We knew they’d make a run; that was expected,” said Gadsden-Gilliard. “It was just the fight in the guys at the end.”
The victory was Bartow’s 200th in 11 seasons at ETSU. He’s the school’s second-winningest coach, behind only Madison Brooks (370).
“We’ll take it,” said Bartow, who earlier this season posted the 300th win of his coaching career. “We’ve had a lot of good players and good teams, and I’m happy to get it. We just need to keep winning.”
The Bucs (11-10, 4-4) have won the first two games of a five-game homestand to move into a tie for fourth place in the A-Sun. They’ll face league-leading Mercer (17-5, 8-1) on Thursday night.
Jacksonville fell to 8-12, 4-5 with its third straight loss.
“We let a couple slip away early in conference play,” said Gadsden-Gilliard. “This homestand is big for us.”
The Bucs got 13 points and seven rebounds from Harris, who was coming off a 24-point performance two nights earlier against North Florida. Lester Wilson also scored 13, while Rashawn Rembert, the team’s leading scorer, had a quiet night, with 10.
Wilson, mired in a season-long shooting slump, scored all of his points in the first half to lead the Bucs to a 43-36 lead. He took only one shot in seven minutes of action the rest of the way.
Wilson was shooting 33 percent from the field for the season – 26 percent from 3-point range – but he buried three from long range against the Dolphins and was perfect on four trips to the foul line. It was only the second time in the last eight games that he’s hit double figures.
“I told him to try to clean his mind out,” said Bartow. “He’s disappointed that he’s not been playing better. One thing I know is that he can make shots.”
Point guard Petey McClain chipped in with seven points, five assists and three steals for ETSU.
For Jacksonville, Javon Dawson collected 12 points and 10 rebounds, and White scored 14 points. Martin had seven assists and seven rebounds as the Dolphins dominated the boards 40-29.