JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. ( March 4, 2014) – Like the end of a great novel, the last chapter of the ETSU vs. Lipscomb story was simply unforgettable.
In a series that has witnessed every imaginable late-game scenario unfold over the last nine years, the ETSU men’s basketball team overcame a 16-point deficit with eight minutes left in regulation, then fought through two overtimes to ultimately win thanks to a free throw with 1.5 seconds left by freshman A.J. Merriweather (Jackson), as the Buccaneers bested the Bisons 89-88 in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament Tuesday night inside the ETSU/MSHA Athletic Center.
Merriweather got his chance to become the hero after Lipscomb’s freshman guard Josh Williams made a game-changing mistake. With the contest tied at 88, Lipscomb had the ball and a shot at the win but missed the attempt, leaving Merriweather to come down with the rebound under the Bisons’ basket – 90 feet away from the Bucs’ goal. Williams then inexplicably fouled Merriweather, sending him to the other end of the floor with a chance to win the game at the foul line. The freshman sank one of the two free throws, and a Lipscomb desperation shot then missed the mark to end the game.
“I don’t know where to start,” said ETSU head coach Murry Bartow, whose team improved to 18-14 on the season and will now travel to Fort Myers, Fla., to take on Florida Gulf Coast in the semifinals of the A-Sun Tournament at 6:30 p.m. Thursday night. “I’m just so proud of our guys. This was a tough game that we were fortunate enough to win. It’s unusual to see a foul at that point of the game, because officials don’t want to call that, but it was blatant. When he did it, I took a deep breath and thought we were in good shape.”
Those late-game moments did not appear to be in the cards for the Bucs for most of regulation, as Lipscomb built a 58-42 lead with just 7:53 left on the clock. However, at that point junior guard Jalen Riley (Racine, Wis.) sparked the Bucs, scoring 12 of his game-high 28 points during a 27-11 run that Riley ended with a foul shot to tie the game at 69-69 at the end of regulation.
In the first overtime, the Bucs led by five, but Lipscomb rallied to tie the game as Khion Sankey’s 3-pointer at the end of the five-minute period made it 80-80. In the second overtime, the Bucs trailed 88-86 following another Sankey 3-pointer with 32 seconds left, but a pair of free throws by sophomore forward Lester Wilson (Knoxville) tied it at 88, setting up the final plays of the contest.
For the game, Riley and KGG finished with double-doubles, as Riley scored 28 and had 10 rebounds, while KGG finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Other ETSU players in double figures included 16 from junior guard Rashawn Rembert (Tampa, Fla.), Wilson finished with 13, and senior forward Hunter Harris (Nashville) added 11.
Lipscomb was led by Malcolm Smith’s 24 points, while Josh Williams scored 20, Martin Smith netted 12, and J.C. Hampton added 11.
The Bucs will now hop a charter flight for Fort Myers, Fla., on Wednesday morning. The game will air on regional cable courtesy of CSS, and on ESPN3 on the web. For more on ETSU men’s hoops throughout the postseason, visit ETSUBucs.com and click on the men’s hoops link.