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Southern Conference Finals

March 13, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Southern Conference Finals

by Mike Baller

The 2003 Southern Conference Championship belongs to The Bucs of East
Tennessee State University who receive an automatic bid the NCAA tournament.
They held off Chattanooga 97-90 in front of 4,100 fans and a national
television audience at the North Charleston Coliseum on Saturday night.

ETSU was led by freshman Tim Smith who finished with 25 points and the
tournament’s Most Outstanding Player honor. The Bucs held 48-40 advantage at
the end of a fast-paced first half. They built a 13 point cushion early in
the second period only to see Chattanooga make an emotional run tying the
game at 59 with 14:53 remaining. The Mocs were screaming and high-fiving
after forcing multiple turnovers that created easy lay-ups during the spurt.

The game was tied for a second and final time at 66 with 10:19 to go. Junior
forward Zakee Wadood nailed a three just 14 seconds later that put the Buc’s
in the lead for good. Chattanooga did get within three points again with .25
seconds remaining, but ETSU was a rock solid 8-8 from the free throw line
down the stretch to preserve the win.

“I’ve been in a lot of games like this where if you can just get into the
lead, you want to see how the other team will react. We just couldn’t quite
get over the hump,” said Chattanooga first year head coach Jeff Lebo.

One major reason the Mocs couldn’t grab a lead was the play of ETSU ‘s Smith
who played the entire 40 minutes. “Tim Smith hit big shots the entire game,
he plays like a senior. He was the difference in the game,” said Lebo. He is
not a senior, but he is 21 years old and his age provides leadership and a
lot of maturity. Throughout the game Chattanooga fans chanted “Lit-tle
BowWow, Lit-tle BowWow” when Smith had the ball.

“It didn’t bother me, it inspired me,” said a smiling 5’9″ Smith.

The Bucs of ETSU are a talented team, they finished the regular season 20-10.
They defeated tournament favorite College of Charleston 64-55 in the semis on
Friday. They have good leadership in juniors Wadood and Center Jerald Fields.
They also have two other impressive freshman along with Smith: guard Ben
Rhoda who had 10 points in 27 minutes, and big man Brad Nuckles who had 16
points and 10 rebounds in the game.

When asked what seed they would receive in the NCAA tournament and who he
thought they might play, a giddy Ed DeChellis, head coach of ETSU, responded
“All I’m thinkin’ about right now is a steak and cigar!”

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