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ETSU renews heated rivalry with Kennesaw State

NET News Service • Dec 22, 2008 at 12:00 AM

JOHNSON CITY — When East Tennessee State and Kennesaw State meet on the basketball court, tempers seem to flare and technical fouls are called more frequently.

The young rivalry will be renewed tonight when the teams play at Kennesaw, Ga. It will be only the sixth time the schools have met — ETSU leads the series 4-1 — but most of the games have been memorable.

“Every time we get in a game with Kennesaw, something’s going on,” ETSU guard Courtney Pigram said. “It’s turned into a rivalry. We’re looking forward to a tough game.”

The 2006 game in Memorial Center featured Tim Smith’s triple-double, six technicals and Ben Rhoda being ejected. A lot of the fireworks have centered around Kennesaw’s star players Ronnell Wooten and Shuan Stegal. They’re both gone, but fiery coach Tony Ingle is still around.

“They have some different guys, but they’re that same feisty, aggressive type team that we’ve always seen from them,” ETSU coach Murry Bartow said. “It’s a big game. If there’s a way you can steal a few on the road in your league, it’s important.”

The Bucs are on quite a roll right now. They come into the game 7-3 despite having played only two home games. They’ve won four games in a row and took four of five on a recent road swing before beating Chattanooga at home.

“The guys are playing good,” Bartow said. “You just want to keep riding the wave. I do hope we can keep playing well. We’ve won a lot of road games already. I’m really pleased where we’re at.”

ETSU has the top two scorers in the Atlantic Sun Conference, the only team in the country to have a league’s No. 1 and 2 scorers. Kevin Tiggs leads the A-Sun, averaging 22.0 points a game. Pigram is second at 19.0 and leads the league in assists at 5.5 a game. Mike Smith is sixth in scoring at 14.5 points a game.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Tiggs said Monday. “We’ve got good chemistry. My teammates are finding me when I’m open. As long as we keep winning, that’s all that counts.”

That trio has led the Bucs to a start that ranks with the best in recent memory.

“The three captains are really playing well,” Bartow said. “The formula needs to be to keep them playing well, and then the second part is to get some other guys raising their games, to step up and make sure they’re playing really well.”

Kennesaw State is 5-4 and has lost it last two games to Florida A&M and Savannah State.

Sophomore guard Kelvin McConnell leads the Owls, averaging 13.6 points a game. He’s hitting 46 percent of his 3-point shots and has been the team’s leading scorer in four of its games. Junior forward Jon-Michael Nickerson, a former minor-league baseball player, averages 12.6 points and 7.8 rebounds.

The Owls’ last win, a 66-64 victory over USC-Upstate, came almost three weeks ago.

ETSU’s 6-foot-11 freshman center Seth Coy has been medically cleared to play. He’ll be in uniform, but isn’t expected to see any action. His return is set for the Dec. 30 home game against Morehead State.

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