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A-Sun honors Pigram, Bartow

JOE AVENTO • Feb 28, 2007 at 5:33 AM

JOHNSON CITY - Back in January, when Courtney Pigram's four missed free throws led to an overtime loss against Belmont, the East Tennessee State guard didn't sulk. He headed back to the gym later that night and shot some baskets.

That kind of dedication was rewarded Tuesday when Pigram, ETSU's versatile sophomore, was chosen as the Atlantic Sun Conference Player of the Year in a vote by the league's coaches.

ETSU's Murry Bartow was selected as the A-Sun Coach of the Year after leading the Bucs to the league's regular-season championship with a 16-2 conference record.

"My teammates, I couldn't have done this without them," Pigram said. "The team means a whole lot and I really thank them for it."

Pigram tied for second in the A-Sun in scoring, averaging 17.2 points a game.

But it was the big moments where he stood out.

Pigram averaged almost 20 points in two games against league runner-up Belmont, scored 23 in the title-clinching win over Kennesaw State and had a career-high 34 when the Bucs snapped Belmont's 18-game winning streak.

And then there was his last outing against Mercer, one that will be remembered by anybody in attendance as one of the greatest performances in ETSU history.

Pigram finished with 29 points, 18 assists and eight rebounds. His assist total equaled the A-Sun record and was one shy of Mister Jennings' ETSU single-game mark. He came within a couple rebounds of the second triple-double in school history.

"It's a great honor for him," said ETSU senior forward Brad Nuckles, a second-team all-conference selection. "He's had a great season. He's been our go-to guy in the big games."

Pigram is ETSU's second A-Sun Player of the Year in a row. Tim Smith won the award last year.

"The good thing about Courtney is I think he's a little more unselfish," Nuckles said. "He passes the ball. There were a lot of games where he wasn't the leading scorer. He doesn't take 20 shots a game to get it.

"It's a more balanced player of the year award this year and I think that's why we're a better team."

Pigram led the league with 2.7 3-point baskets per game, and his 117 assists and 79 steals led the Bucs.

"He's really improved his game," Bartow said. "He's come so far in a year. Last year he was a little more of a shooter, took a lot of bad shots. This year he's much more mature as a player, defending at a much different level. He's diving for loose balls, taking charges. And he's always been a great passer."

ETSU guard Mike Smith made the conference's all-freshman team after averaging 10.8 points a game.

Nuckles, a senior, averaged 11.4 points and 8.0 rebounds.

Bartow's coaching award was his second in his four years at ETSU. He won the award in the Southern Conference in the 2003-04 season.

"Certainly it's nice to win it, but the fun thing to me is winning," Bartow said. "We've got a fun team and it's a good team. I've been in it long enough where I don't get overly excited about that kind of stuff. I like to be 16-2, and that's kind of a byproduct of that, you get some of those awards.

"I'm more happy with Courtney being player of the year, Brad being all-league and Mike being on the all-freshman team," he added.

Lipscomb's Brian Fisk was the conference's defensive player of the year and Mercer's James Florence, who led the league in scoring at 19.7 points per game, was the freshman of the year.

Pigram and Florence highlighted the all-conference first team, joined by Belmont's Justin Hare, Campbell's Jonathan Rodriguez and Jacksonville's Jesse Kimbrough.

Joining Nuckles on the second team were Mercer's Shaddean Aaron, Lipscomb's Eddie Ard and Fisk, Gardner-Webb's Chris Gash, Belmont's Boomer Herndon and Kennesaw State's Ronell Wooten.

The all-freshman team included Smith, Rodriguez, Florence and Ben Smith and Lehmon Colbert, both of Jacksonville.

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