MACON, Ga. (March 5, 2010) - Freshman forward J.C. Ward (Marietta, Ga.) sank a critical jump shot, blocked an attempted score and pulled down an important defensive rebound in the final seconds, as the No. 5-seeded ETSU men's basketball team rallied from a 15-point first-half deficit to take a hard-fought 69-64 win over No. 8-seeded Kennesaw State in the semifinals of the 2010 General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament Friday night at the University Center on the campus of Mercer University.
The Buccaneers, who are the defending A-Sun Tournament champions, led the game 63-62 with 59 seconds left when Ward sank his 18-foot jumper to make it 65-62, and he later grabbed a missed foul shot by the Owls to help seal the win. Junior guards Justin Tubbs (Trussville, Ala.) and Micah Williams (Manchester) then combined to hit four straight free throws down the stretch, helping send the Bucs to their second straight A-Sun championship game.
ETSU (19-14 overall) will face the winner of Friday night's other semifinal between Mercer and Jacksonville, and Saturday's championship game will air nationally at 6 p.m. on ESPN2.
"I was really glad to see J.C.'s shot go down," said ETSU head coach Murry Bartow, whose team will play in the A-Sun finals for the third time in the last four years. "I was really proud of our guys because they made plays when we needed them down the stretch. That's really not about coaching in a game like this. It's about players making plays.
"The goal in a tournament setting is to survive and get a shot in the final game. I'm pleased our team has earned that opportunity."
Along with Ward's play down the stretch, Williams returned from his career best 32-point effort in Thursday's quarterfinal win to score a team-high 20 points against the Owls. In addition, junior forward Tommy Hubbard (Boston) pitched in 18 points, while freshman Sheldon Cooley (Tampa) had 11.
ETSU got off to a slow start in the first half, shooting poorly from the field and watching the Owls build a lead of as many as 15 points at 21-6 with 11:35 left in the half. However, the Bucs put together an 11-0 run at that point to get within four at 21-17.
The two teams traded baskets before ETSU scored the final five points of the half to take the lead at 31-29 when Williams sank a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
In the second half, the Bucs continued to play well early on as they pushed the lead out to eight points at 45-37 on a layup by Tubbs. However, from there the Owls hit three straight 3-pointers in an 11-0 spurt to race past the Bucs and hold a 52-47 edge with 10 minutes left in the game.
ETSU managed to rally at that point, regaining the lead at 55-54 and not trailing again even though the Bucs never held an advantage of more than four points down the stretch. In fact, though Ward's bucket made it 65-62, Kennesaw State's Kevin McConnell quickly scored and was fouled, going to the free throw line with a chance to tie the game. The free toss missed however, and Ward was there to pull down the board. From there, both Tubbs and Williams hit free throws to ice the win.
For KSU, freshman Markeith Cummings had a game high 23 points, while guard Spencer Dixon added 18.
For more on ETSU men's basketball in the Atlantic Sun Conference finals, visit ETSUBucs.com and click on the men's hoops link.