The Bucs changed their tactics, and their more aggressive approach led to an 82-72 victory over USC-Upstate on Monday night at Memorial Center.
Mike Smith and Courtney Pigram each scored 22 points, while Kevin Tiggs added 18 for ETSU (15-5, 9-1 Atlantic Sun Conference).
“First half, we took way too many 3s, so we eliminated that at halftime,” Bartow said. “We said ‘We’re done with that. Let’s try to get to the rim.’ And we’re not a great 3-point shooting team, so I don’t know why we settle all the time for 3s.”
Perhaps Upstate’s Nick Schneiders had something to do with that. The 7-foot-3 junior spent much of the first half disrupting ETSU’s inside game, forcing the Bucs to change their shots on several attempts.
“He’s a big body,” Pigram said. “He should be doing things like that.”
ETSU was 2-for-11 from 3-point range at halftime, and the Spartans had a 36-32 lead.
In the second half, the Bucs took only two 3-point shots. They drove the ball right at the big man and the rest of the Spartans, and that was the main reason they went to the foul line 29 times in the second half.
Free throw shooting proved much more effective for the Bucs than the long shots. They made their first 17 foul shots and finished 31-of-35 from the line.
“The free throw numbers speak to our aggressive play and not settling for 25-foot shots,” Bartow said.
A 20-4 run to start the second half, fueled by a press that forced a faster tempo, gave the Bucs some breathing room. ETSU’s biggest lead was 18 points as Upstate scored only four — two baskets by Schneiders — in the first nine minutes of the second half.
“The first half we came out sluggish,” Pigram said. “We just came out and picked it up as a group. We talked among each other about what we’re going to do when we came out.”
Upstate (4-15, 3-7) jumped out to a 19-10 lead. ETSU used a brief 6-0 run to climb closer.
The Bucs could have gotten within a basket at halftime, but Tiggs’ dunk on a lob pass from Pigram came just after the buzzer had sounded.
Smith had made a diving steal, passed long to Pigram, who could have beaten the clock with a layup. Instead, he lofted an alley-oop pass to Tiggs, and by the time they completed the play, the red light on the backboard had flashed.
The officials huddled around a television monitor to make sure they got the call right, and the dunk was clearly after the horn had sounded.
“We’re a team that don’t want to lose,” Smith said. “We were in the locker room and we were down. We just came out in the second half and played harder because we knew if we didn’t we might lose.”
During the decisive run to start the second half, Pigram set up Tiggs for another alley-oop, and this one counted. The dunk with 18:28 remaining gave the Bucs their first lead since 2-0 and they never gave up their advantage.
Greg Hamlin, who posted his second consecutive double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds, helped ETSU stretch the lead to double digits when he made a steal, hustled upcourt and found Pigram open in the right corner. Pigram connected on the 3-pointer, ETSU’s only three of the second half, to put his team up 50-40.
The 6-9 Hamlin also blocked four shots and had four assists.
“He’s just solid,” Bartow said. “I love Greg because you know what you’re going to get.”
Pigram did most of the damage from the line, going 13-for-14. He was the first one to miss. Tiggs was 8-for-8.
Adam Sollazzo led the Bucs with five assists.
Bobby Davis led Upstate with 18 points. Schneiders had 16 points and eight rebounds, and Josh Chavis added 15 points, all on 3-pointers.
The Bucs travel to Florida this week for a first-place showdown with Jacksonville on Friday and North Florida on Sunday.