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Sharp foul shooting keeps ETSU out front in A-Sun

JOE AVENTO • Jan 20, 2007 at 1:30 AM

JOHNSON CITY - Two weeks ago, the East Tennessee State men's basketball team lost a game at the foul line. On Friday night, the Bucs won one there.

ETSU made 26 of 32 free throws to hand Kennesaw State a 78-66 overtime defeat in their Atlantic Sun Conference game at the Memorial Center.

"No. 1, we got there a lot," ETSU coach Murry Bartow said. "No. 2, we capitalized. We should be a good free throw shooting team and we were tonight. It's not just the percentage, it's the number of attempts."

Brad Nuckles recorded his fifth consecutive double-double, scoring 18 points and pulling in 12 rebounds. Eight of his points and four of his rebounds came in overtime as the Bucs pulled away in a hotly contested, physical game.

Eryk Thomas added 14 points and 10 rebounds for the first double-double of his ETSU career.

Kennesaw State's Ronell Wooten scored 26 points and put on a show that included 3-point shooting (5-for-13) and a couple of spectacular dunks.

But Wooten was whistled for his fourth foul with 10:28 left and was forced to the bench. He was held to three points over the final 15 minutes.

"We're so fragile, anyway," said Kennesaw State coach Tony Ingle, whose team fell to 8-13, 4-5. "We have to have him on the floor. That put us behind the eight ball."

The result allowed the Bucs (14-7, 8-1) to keep sole possession of first place in the A-Sun. They're 3-1 in overtime this season. The one loss was against Belmont, when they missed 12 free throws.

This time it was Kennesaw State's turn to misfire from the line. While ETSU was shooting 81 percent on foul shots, the Owls missed their last six tries in overtime and finished 12-for-23.

"When guys go to the line, we've got to make them," Ingle said. "I'm glad we got fouled. I just wish we would have made them."

The teams were tied 61-61 at the end of regulation and again at 65 a minute and a half into the extra session. Nuckles then scored six of ETSU's next nine points while Kennesaw managed just one point in the final 3:30.

"We've won some close games," Bartow said. "I think that tells us probably a little something about the character of our team. We played a great overtime."

Courtney Pigram added 15 points for the Bucs, who shot 44 percent on the night. He also had six steals in his 42 minutes.

ETSU freshman Mike Smith finished with 10 points. He was 1-for-8 from the floor, but made all eight of his free throws and led the team with four assists. Thomas was 6-for-6 from the line and Nuckles was 6-for-8.

"We weren't hitting our shots in the first half, so we were trying to get to the cup, get fouled," Smith said. "I was struggling from the field, but I made all my free throws, so I was pleased."

Shaun Stegall had 22 points for the Owls. Kennesaw State point guard Golden Ingle was 0-for-10 from the field and made two of his four foul shots, though he did manage 10 assists.

The Bucs had 12 steals and seven blocked shots. Andrew Reed rejected five. They also held Kennesaw State to 33 percent shooting.

Up next for ETSU are important road games at Belmont on Thursday and Lipscomb on Saturday.

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