East Tennessee State earns tourney bid
East Tennessee State earned its second consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament, beating Mercer 72-66 in the Atlantic Sun Conference title game Saturday behind 18 points from reserve Justin Tubbs.
Tommy Hubbard added 14 points and tournament MVP Micah Williams had 13 for the fifth-seeded Bucs (20-14), who extended their longest winning streak of the season to six games. They were playing in their third Atlantic Sun championship game in the past four years.
The Bucs won this crown with a vastly different team than last season. East Tennessee State lost three starters to graduation and one to injury from its 2008-09 lineup.
Playing at home, No. 6 seed Mercer (16-17) lost in its first championship game appearance since 1996.
Williams grabbed nine rebounds for the Bucs, who shot 48.2 percent from the field. Isiah Brown had 12 points and Adam Sollazzo 11.
E.J. Kusnyer led Mercer with 16 points, while Brandon Moore added 13.
ETSU held James Florence and Danny Emerson, a duo that teamed for 33.6 points a game this season, to only 18. Emerson did have a game-high 13 rebounds, but also had four turnovers, mostly off ETSU’s traps when he got the ball inside.
The Bucs led 37-35 at halftime, were tied by the Bears twice in the second half and the teams exchanged the lead twice.
Mercer pulled within 62-61 with 1:44 left on Kusnyer’s off-balance 3-pointer from the left wing. But Tubbs answered 26 seconds later with a 3-pointer after double-clutching, and the Bucs led 66-61.
Emerson’s two free throws with 34.3 seconds left brought the Bears to 66-68, but the Bucs again made it a four-point margin with two free throws by Tubbs less than two seconds later.
Mercer’s last chance ended with a turnover, when Williams tipped away an inbounds pass from Florence to Emerson with 19.7 seconds left.
Mercer went 8 for 16 from the free throw line in the second half and endured a 1-for-6 stretch that prevented the Bears from tying or leading.
ETSU became the sixth A-Sun team to win consecutive championships and is the second fifth seed to do so. The Bucs are making consecutive NCAA tournament trips for the third time in program history (1989-1992 and 2003-04).