JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Jan. 4, 2003) - In a game that featured a trio of freshmen playing like battle-tested veterans, East Tennessee State true freshman Brad Nuckles (Council, Va.) stood above his youthful peers thanks to two critical buckets down the stretch - including the game winner.
Nuckles, a 6-foot-9 center, tapped in an errant shot by sophomore Tiras Wade (Tampa, Fla.) with just two tenths of a second left in overtime to give the Buccaneers a 96-94 victory over UNC Greensboro in the Southern Conference opener for both teams Saturday at Memorial Center. The win came in front of 5,479 fans, as well as a national television audience on ESPN2.
While he finished the game with eight points and four rebounds, Nuckles was not the only youngster who provided heroics for the Bucs. Fellow freshmen guards Tim Smith (Newport News, Va.) and Ben Rhoda (Dayton, Ohio) also contributed a great deal, with Smith finishing with 13 points and six assists, and Rhoda pitching in 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the floor.
"I'm very proud of our freshmen," said ETSU head coach Ed DeChellis. "They came in and really made the difference. They all made huge plays for us down the stretch and they all contributed. There at the end, we had three freshmen, a sophomore and a junior on the floor."
But the Bucs were just happy to be in the overtime.
After struggling at the free throw line and from the field for most of the second half, ETSU (7-5 overall, 1-0 SoCon) trailed by as many as four points at 79-75 with just 14 seconds remaining.
However, Wade drained a desperation 3-pointer from the left wing with 11 seconds left on the clock to make it 79-78, and after UNCG's Jay Joseph made 1-of-2 from the foul line, Wade again made a critical play as he pushed the ball up the floor and found junior Zakee Wadood (Lonoke, Ark.) open under the basket for a open layup to tie the game at 80.
In the overtime, both teams traded buckets most of the way, but ETSU finally managed to build a three-point lead at 94-91 thanks to Nuckles' rebound and put back following a missed 3-point attempt by Wadood. However, with just 42 seconds remaining Joseph nailed a 3-pointer to tie it at 94.
Smith then held the ball for the final shot of the game and passed the ball to Wadood on the left wing with just over 10 seconds remaining. Wadood drove to the basket with just over seven seconds remaining and dished the ball to Wade, who attempted to force a shot over two UNCG defenders.
The ball sailed to the right of the basket, where Nuckles was waiting to tap the ball in with his right hand.
For ETSU, Wade finished with a game-high 32 points, just two points shy of his career high of 34. Wadood managed the 12th double-double of his career with 15 points and 11 rebounds, and he added three blocks and five steals.
UNCG got a team-high 29 points from James Maye, while Ronnie Burrell added 20 points, Joseph pitched in 17, and Luke Boythe netted 11.
ETSU will be in action again Monday night on the road at Appalachian State. Game time is set for 7 in Boone, N.C.