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Jan. 5, 2008
JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - East Tennessee State built a 13-point lead in the second half only to watch USC Upstate fight its way back into the game Saturday evening in the A-Sun season opener for both teams. In the end, ETSU was able to hold off the Spartans, 67-60, at the Memorial Center.
Upstate played its inaugural game as a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference. The Spartans fall to 2-13 overall and 0-1 in the conference. ETSU improves to 7-7 overall and 1-0 in the league.
Upstate started slowly in the first half, falling behind by its largest deficit of the game, 22-8, before regrouping to cut the lead to three points in the second half.
"We got behind from the get go," said Upstate head coach Eddie Payne. "Then, we fought harder and got back into the game. I wish we would have done that sooner."
In the first half, Andrew Reed scored 10 unanswered points that lifted ETSU from a 6-4 lead to a 12-point advantage at 16-4 with 13:36 to play. Justin Houser converted a pair of free throws to end the Reed and ETSU run. The Spartans were held scoreless for 4:08 as ETSU built its double digit lead. The Bucs went on to build a 14-point advantage, 26-12, after Tommy Hubbard's bucket with 8:12 to play.
Jeremy Byrd provided Upstate a spark on both ends of the court. The senior guard nailed a three-pointer, came up with a pair of steals on two straight ETSU possessions and converted a layup as Upstate used a 9-2 run to get within 28-21 with 5:13 to go before the half.
ETSU extended the lead back to double digits before Byrd answered with his second three-pointer of the half to get the deficit back to single digits at 32-24 with 2:38 to play. ETSU, though, got five straight points from Jacoby Davis to end the half as the Bucs went into halftime with a 39-27 lead.
ETSU was aided by Upstate's inability to shoot the ball well from the floor and costly turnovers. The Spartans shot just 31 percent from the floor and committed 13 turnovers. Taking away Byrd's two three balls and the Spartans missed 11 of the 13 three-pointers they took. Reed finished the half with 12 points to lead ETSU, while Davis had nine and Byrd had eight to keep the Spartans in the game.
Upstate came out in the second half and turned up its defensive intensity. The defensive effort paid off on the offensive end of the court as the Spartans cut into the ETSU lead.
"We were able to get some stops on defense," said Payne. "But then we missed some free throws and committed some turnovers when we were in a position to do some positive things."
Upstate held ETSU without a basket from the 17:11 mark until the 9:43 mark of the second half. During that stretch, the Bucs were only able to manage three free throws. Upstate used the strong defense to cut into the deficit significantly.
The Spartans got within seven, 42-35, with 15:05 to play in the game. Upstate continued to battle, cutting the lead to six with under 12 minutes remaining.
Rashawn Brailsford nailed a three-pointer with 9:59 to play to get Upstate within three, 45-42. However, ETSU answered with seven straight points to push the lead to 10 points with 7:48 remaining. Kevin Tiggs had five points in the run.
Mezie Uzochukwu converted a layup with 6:14 to play to end a 3:45 Spartan scoreless drought and cut the deficit to single digits at 52-44. Davis converted 1-of-2 from the free throw line to get Upstate within seven and also drew Tiggs' fifth foul. ETSU answered when Travis Strong nailed a three-pointer to push the lead to 10 points with 5:20 remaining.
Upstate would not give up. Brailsford and Payne hit back-to-back baskets and Uzochukwu converted 1-of-2 free throws to get the Spartans within five, 55-50, with 2:59 to play.
ETSU scored four unanswered points to push the lead to nine with 1:11 to play, but Byrd's layup cut the lead to seven with just under a minute to play. Strong made 1-of-2 from the free throw line to give ETSU an eight-point lead, but Gabor Boros' three-pointer got Upstate within five, 63-58, with 31 seconds to play.
Strong nailed two free throws with 29 seconds to play to give the Bucs a seven-point advantage and the Spartans missed a three-pointer on the next possession, essentially putting the game away. Pigram made both free throws to give ETSU a nine-point lead with 19 seconds remaining.
Upstate turned the ball over 13 times in the first half, but rallied to cut down on its mistakes in the second half, turning the ball over just five times. The Spartans forced ETSU into 23 turnovers for the game. Upstate was just 5-of-28 from three-point range, making the difference in the game.
Four Spartans finished in double figures, led by Byrd who finished with 14 points. Davis added his third double-double of the season with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Payne finished with 11 points, as did Uzochukwu.
Reed led ETSU in scoring with 14 points. Smith added 13, while Strong and Pigram added 11 and 10 points, respectively.