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Pigram has career game as ETSU edges Jacksonville

Kelly Hodge • Jan 3, 2009 at 12:00 AM

JOHNSON CITY — Courtney Pigram was at his best, and that was just good enough for the East Tennessee State basketball team.

Pigram poured in a career-high 39 points Saturday as the Buccaneers stayed unbeaten in the Atlantic Sun Conference with a scrappy 84-82 victory over Jacksonville.

The senior guard made 14 of 22 shots, with five 3-pointers and five steals thrown in. His previous high was 34 points, set against Lipscomb two years ago.

“This was one of the best games I’ve ever played,” said Pigram, who overcame a bout of stomach flu. “I’ll never forget this game.”

Many in the Memorial Center crowd of 3,472 also will remember it fondly. They were treated to an up-tempo affair that featured six ties and seven lead changes, with frenetic swings on both ends of the court.

While Pigram ultimately stole the show, it was Mike Smith who provided the game-winning shot for the Bucs. The junior guard banked home an 8-footer with 4.5 seconds left to break the last tie.

With the fans on their feet and roaring for Jacksonville’s final possession, Travis Cohn was able to launch a shot from the top of the key as he crashed into ETSU forward Isiah Brown. But the ball fell short and there was no whistle as sighs of relief filled the Mini Dome.

Smith, who scored 11 points, was pleased to finish strong in what had been another tough shooting day. He quickly turned his attention to Pigram, the man who had carried the team back from an early 10-point deficit.

“Once he’s in his little mode, he’s unstoppable,” Smith said. “Any time he’s going like that, we’re going to get on his shoulders and let him carry us.”

The Bucs (9-4, 3-0) are the only team with an unblemished league record at this early stage of the race. They have won six of their last seven games heading into a Monday night matchup here against North Florida.

The Dolphins (3-8, 2-1) shot 51 percent from the field, including 12-of-26 from behind the arc, and they held a 37-30 rebounding edge. But the Bucs also made half of their shots (29-of-58) and outscored Jacksonville 20-6 from the foul line. They committed just 10 turnovers — six by Kevin Tiggs.

Tiggs, the A-Sun’s leading scorer, had a fairly quiet day with 13 points on seven shots. Brown collected 11 rebounds and eight points for the Bucs.

But this game was about Pigram’s ability to lead, and his ability to score.

“Courtney was phenomenal,” said ETSU coach Murry Bartow. “When he gets that look in his eye, you try to get him the ball and get out of his way. He just willed us to win.”

Jacksonville had six men score in double figures, led by Lehmon Colbert with 15 points. Ayron Hardy and Evan Jefferson scored 14 apiece, while Ben Smith had 13, Cohn 11 and Marcus Allen 10.

Allen also grabbed a dozen rebounds.

Coming off a 71-61 home loss to Morehead State that snapped their five-game winning streak, the Bucs started poorly against the Dolphins. They made just two of their first 10 shots and fell behind by 10.

Then Pigram started to heat up.

He finished the half with 16 points, and the Bucs were back within striking distance at 39-35.

The 6-footer from Memphis had that look in his eye as the second half began, and the fun started. Pigram gave his team its first lead with a 3 at the 16:50 mark and, after the Dolphins pulled away again, he reeled them in with a four-point play, followed by a steal and layup that gave ETSU a 60-58 edge with 12 minutes left.

Back came Jacksonville with a 10-2 run to go in front 71-66. Then it was ETSU’s turn again. The Bucs clicked off nine straight points, the last five by Pigram.

A 3-pointer by Ben Smith gave the Dolphins a 76-75 lead with 4:29 to play, but they didn’t score again until a follow by Marcus Allen with 1:17 left. The Bucs made it interesting by missing 5 of 6 free throws down the stretch, but they survived.

“It was an exhausting game,” Bartow said. “I feel fortunate we squeezed it out.”

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