Smithson, Gunn, Bench Lead 86-76 Victory

December 30, 2003 · MT Media Relations
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - Middle Tennessee's Bryan Smithson scored a career-high 15 points and Tommy Gunn tied his season-high with 23 points, as the Blue Raiders held off a furious second-half rally to defeat South Carolina State, 86-76, in the consolation game of the Dr Pepper Classic at McKenzie Arena.

The Blue Raiders (6-4) played their best half of the season in the opening 20 minutes, shooting over 65 percent from the field and getting 16 points from senior Gunn en route to a 50-29 lead at the break.

But South Carolina State came out in the first five minutes of the second half and made a run, as both teams battled foul trouble. The Bulldogs were in the double-bonus nine minutes into the second half, as 59 fouls were called in the game with 65 free throws taken between the two squads.

SCSU (3-6) chipped away at the lead and finally got it under double-digits with a Dimitri Evans lay-up midway through the final 20 minutes. They would get as close as five at 67-62 on a Demeco Heath lay-up at the 7:23 mark, but the Blue Raiders and head coach Kermit Davis made a strategical decision at that point that paid off.

Middle Tennessee began to press the Bulldogs, forcing three turnovers and not allowing a field goal for the next four minutes. The Blue Raiders made 11-of-12 from the charity stripe over the final three-plus minutes to seal the victory.

The story for the Blue Raiders was also the bench play of Steven Jackson, Marcus Robinson and Darrio Scott, who combined for 28 points and 14 rebounds. Scott was also the point-man in the press in the second half, helping force the turnovers by the Bulldogs that stalled their momentum. The three subs were 9-of-14 from the field and 10-for-16 from the foul line.

Gunn was 7-of-9 from the field, including 3-for-4 from three-point range. Jackson sscored 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds in 15 minutes before fouling out, one of six disqualifications in the contest. Kyle Young added a game-high seven boards after grabbing a dozen against Chattanooga on Monday. Michael Cuffee netted 10 points for Middle Tennessee.

The Blue Raiders took a season-high 38 free throws, making 28, including 19 in the second half, as the squad had just eight field goals after the break.

SCSU's Heath scored a game-high 25 points, while Thurman Zimmerman netted 17 points and Shawn Kirkland added 10 off the bench.

The Blue Raiders play their final road nonconference game of the season Friday at 6:30 p.m. CT against VCU in Richmond, Va. The squad returns home for a 7 p.m. contest against IP-Fort Wayne on Tuesday, January 5.

The Blue Raiders shot a season-high 59.5 percent from the field. The previous best was 51.0 percent against Alabama State on December 4 ... Freshman Bryan Smithson had a career-high 15 points, including free throws in the final minute. Smithson was 8-of-9 from the line for the game. The Kennesaw, Ga., native had five turnovers in 68 minutes of action in the tournament, scoring 24 points and dishing out nine assists with three steals ... Senior Tommy Gunn tied his season-high with 23 points, including 16 in the opening half. Gunn also scored 23 against Covenant in the season-opener ... Middle Tennessee shot and made season-highs from the foul line in the contest, going 28-for-38 from the charity stripe.

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