JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. – Seniors Kevin Murphy and Alfred Jones (pictured) stepped up to lead the Golden Eagle men's basketball team with 13 points apiece, but their efforts were not enough to match Mike Smith's 26 points as the Bucs of East Tennessee State took the 73-60 win on Saturday.
The Golden Eagles jumped out to an early 8-4 lead over ETSU just three minutes into the contest, but were caught off guard as the Bucs went on a 16-4 run over the next five minutes to give them a lead that they would not relinquish for the remainder of the game.
Despite the change in momentum Tech was able to hold the Bucs at or under their largest lead of the half, eight points, to remain in the game. The team cut the Bucs' lead to as little as two before heading into the locker room in a seven-point hole.
Murphy and freshman Chase Dunn each notched seven points in the first half for Tech but it was the Mike Smith show as far as East Tennessee was concerned. Smith recorded 14 of his 26 points on the day in the first half.
Both offenses struggled somewhat throughout the game; Tech shot 19-52 from the field and 5-21 from long- range to ETSU's respective 22-55 and 5-20. The Bucs power in the paint – accounting for 32 of their 73 points – also paved their way to the charity stripe, allowing them to capitalize on a few more free throws to help them maintain their lead.
The Golden Eagles crashed the boards with the best of the Buc's big men though. Terrell Barnes saw his second consecutive game with double figure rebounds, grabbing 10 of the Golden Eagles' 35 and contributing eight points for Tech. ETSU snagged 37 rebounds on the day.
One player that the Golden Eagles couldn't stop in the second half was Smith. He added 12 more points to give him 26 on the day, a new career high, going 9-14 from the field, 3-4 from downtown.
Murphy finished the game with a team-high 13 points, shooting 3-12 from the field but a perfect 6-6 from the foul line. Forward Alfred Jones matched Murphy's 13, scoring nine in the second half in a 6-9 effort from the field, and grabbed five rebounds. Junior Zach Bailey followed up with 10 points and four boards.
"We struggled on offense tonight, we had trouble finding a consistent rhythm," said head coach Mike Sutton. "Turnovers hurt us, and our shooting was off. We didn't execute our offense and it showed in our accuracy. We knew that they were going to test us, especially on their home court, and they forced us off of our game.
"East Tennessee is a quality team. They're the defending A-Sun champions and have every intention of repeating that feat this year. We put them to the test and pushed them out of their comfort zone, but they capitalized when they needed to and made a few more shots than us."
The Golden Eagles will return to Cookeville for their home opener on Tuesday against Appalachian State at 7 p.m.