East Tennessee State got the March Madness started early.
Trailing Lipscomb by 16 with eight minutes left in regulation Tuesday night, the Bucs roared back and won 89-88 in double overtime in a wild Atlantic Sun Conference quarterfinal at the Dome.
A.J. Merriweather made the go-ahead free throw after inexplicably being fouled by Josh Williams as he corralled a defensive rebound with 1.6 seconds left. The freshman was looking to make an outlet pass when Williams hacked him, apparently thinking his team was behind.
“I was shocked,” said Merriweather. “I looked up at the clock and saw one second left. I said, ‘This is my time.’”
Merriweather’s first free throw bounced twice on the iron before falling away. He then stepped back to the line and, with a raucous home crowd on its feet, calmly stroked his second toss.
Khion Sankey’s desperation heave from half court was on line but hit glass and caromed off the front of the rim at the horn.
“I don’t know where to start,” said ETSU coach Murry Bartow, looking like a man who just climbed off a rollercoaster. “Obviously a game like that can go either way, and we’re very fortunate to win it.”
The Bucs’ reward is a semifinal date Thursday night at Florida Gulf Coast, the top seed and defending champion. The team will take a charter flight to Fort Myers today and begin preparing for the Eagles, who rolled over Stetson 77-55 in their quarterfinal matchup.
The game is set for 6:30 p.m. at Alico Arena .
The home team won all four tournament games Tuesday night. Second-seeded Mercer defeated Jacksonville 85-64, and third-seeded USC Upstate turned back North Florida 80-74.
The driving force for the fourth-seeded Bucs (18-14) was Jalen Riley. The junior guard overcame a 1-for-10 start to score 28 points and grab 10 rebounds.
Eighteen of his points came after the eight-minute mark of regulation. Riley, slashing the basket at every opportunity, got to the foul line 21 times and made 16 free throws.
“When was the last time you’ve gone to a game and a 5-10 point guard shot 21 free throws and gets 10 rebounds?” said Bartow.
Riley’s free throw with 8.6 seconds left in regulation sent the game to overtime, and two more free throws with 37 seconds left in the extra period gave ETSU an 80-77 lead.
But Sankey, who hadn’t scored all night, buried a 3-pointer with 16 seconds left to make it 80-all and extend the game.
Another three by Sankey with 31 seconds left in double overtime gave Lipscomb an 88-86 lead, but the Bison couldn’t hold it. Lester Wilson knotted the score with a pair of free throws with 15 seconds left, and Lipscomb got a good look at the other end from Martin Smith as the clock wound down. His 15-footer was off the mark, and the teams appeared headed for a third overtime.
Williams, who had been brilliant most of the night, had other ideas. He apparently lost track of the score and reached in to foul Merriweather on the rebound.
“I don’t know of any other reason he would have fouled,” said Lipscomb coach Casey Alexander. “It’s just one of those things he’s got to put in his pocket and move on. The last time we were sitting in this media room, we were celebrating him scoring 34 points.”
Williams, a 6-4 freshman, had 20 and nine rebounds on this night. The Bison (15-15) also got 24 and 12, respectively, from Malcolm Smith before he fouled out in the final minute of overtime, and 12 points from Martin Smith.
J.C. Hampton, the hero in a two-point win over the Bucs here during the regular season, had 11 points but went 3-of-20 from the field.
While Riley was the main man for ETSU, Rashawn Rembert scored 16 points and Wilson finished with 13. Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard chipped in with 12 points, 10 rebounds and four steals.
ETSU overcame a slow start to pull within 31-29 at the half, but Lipscomb opened the second half with three straight 3-pointers and went on to build a 58-42 lead with eight minutes left.
Riley then started piling up the points, and when he made a basket in the lane that seemed to climb over the front of the rim, the Bucs had their first lead at 64-62 with 2:51 to play.
“One thing we had going when we were down 16 with eight minutes left is that we’ve come back a lot this year,” said Bartow. “It says a lot about the character of this team.”
The Bucs held a big advantage at the foul line, outscoring the Bison 31-16.
The game was the sixth in the last 12 between the teams decided by two points or less.comments powered by Disqus