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Bucs' Smith hopes Dome fortunes have turned

NET News Service • Jan 25, 2009 at 12:00 AM

JOHNSON CITY — Mike Smith is hoping his last game was the beginning of a new trend.

The East Tennessee State junior guard is coming off a 22-point performance against Campbell. It was his season high and his second-highest scoring total ever at Memorial Center, a place he readily admits he doesn’t play his best.

“I don’t know what it is,” Smith said. “I don’t ever play good here. Hopefully that’s changing.”

Before last Thursday’s breakout game, the numbers backed up Smith. He had been averaging 9.0 points a game at home and 16.1 in games not played in the MiniDome.

Smith gets another shot at his home gym tonight when the Buccaneers (14-5, 8-1) take on USC-Upstate (4-14, 3-6) in a regionally televised Atlantic Sun Conference game (CSS, 7 p.m.).

“Hopefully he can keep it going,” ETSU coach Murry Bartow said. “He’s really an important guy. He’s always going give you the grit, the toughness and the rebounding. When he gets you 22 on top of all that, it’s huge. He’s capable of doing that because he can score in, out and in transition because he’s one of our best runners.”

Overall, Smith averages 13.4 points a game, third on the team behind Kevin Tiggs’ conference-leading 21.1 and Courtney Pigram’s 19.1. Smith also leads the Bucs in rebounding at 6.5 a game.

His 22 points against Campbell were two shy of his best home game, a 24-point outing against Mercer two seasons ago in which Pigram iced the A-Sun player of the year award with a conference-record 18 assists.

“Guys were looking for me, trying to get me going,” Smith said. “They were just coming to me and I was hitting shots. I have to give my teammates credit for getting me the ball.”

Upstate is tied for last place with Lipscomb, but the Spartans’ recent performances would indicate they’re improving. In their past four outings, they’ve had close losses to Stetson and Belmont, and come in on a two-game winning streak, have beaten Lipscomb and Campbell.

“They’re playing a lot better right now,” Bartow said. “The things that bother me are, No. 1, we played them twice last year and we beat them here by a whopping seven points and we beat them there in overtime. No. 2, if you look at this year, they gave Belmont all they wanted and they beat Lipscomb, so they’re playing better right now.

“Obviously their record doesn’t look good, but they’re playing good. That should have our guys’ attention.”

Bobby Davis, a 6-foot-6 senior, is the Spartans’ leading scorer at 14.5 points a game. He’s also second in the league in rebounding at 9.2.

After tonight’s game, ETSU hits the road for its annual trek to Jacksonville, Fla. Friday night’s game at Jacksonville will be televised by CSS. The Bucs then play at North Florida at 2 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday.

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