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Bucs at least have a shot in A-Sun finale

Kelly Hodge • Feb 18, 2014 at 8:55 AM

East Tennessee State has steadily been building speed for about a month now in its final Atlantic Sun Conference basketball race.

Whether the Bucs have enough to take down the frontrunners come tournament time remains to be seen. For now, they’re simply looking to hold their ground in third place with three regular-season games remaining.

The Bucs have won seven of their last nine as they prepare for a trip to Florida this week. They face Jacksonville on Thursday night and North Florida on Saturday, then finish up with a date at USC Upstate the last day of February. Those games will be telling.

North Florida and Upstate are right on ETSU’s heels in the standings, and Jacksonville is the proverbial dangerous team that never seems to quite live up to its potential but is always capable of winning. The Bucs needed a basket in the waning seconds to beat the Dolphins 76-75 here last month.

At 9-6 in the conference, the Bucs may also fall into the “dangerous” category. They have at least one win over everyone except Mercer and Upstate.

The Bears (11-2) beat them by double figures twice and, with a senior-laden roster, look like the team to beat come March. Of course, they couldn’t win a championship on their home floor when they hosted the tournament the last four years.

They may well get another chance to win the big game in Macon. The new A-Sun tournament format – there is no real “tournament,” only individual games at campus sites – affords higher-seeded teams the chance to host right on through to the end of the bracket.

The best ETSU can hope for at the moment is a home quarterfinal. Then it’s all about matchups moving forward.

No one, other than Mercer perhaps, would want to play the Bucs right now. They’re putting up a lot of points, and doing it a lot of different ways. In the last two games, they outgunned Florida Gulf Coast 89-81 and blew past Stetson 93-66. Five men have scored in double figures in four of the last six games.

For the season, the Bucs are averaging 76.2 points, lead the league in free-throwing shooting (73.9) and are second in 3-point shooting (35.8). They've made more free throws than three teams (Florida Gulf Coast, Stetson and Northern Kentucky) have attempted.

Along the way, Rashawn Rembert has established himself as one of the finest shooters ETSU has ever produced. The junior guard from Tampa, Fla., already has 83 3-pointers this season and needs just four more to pass Courtney Pigram as the school’s all-time leader. He’s shooting 43 percent from behind the arc and averaging 16.5 ppg., which ranks second in the conference.

Rembert is the one guy who seems to show up every time out. When the other shooters, Jalen Riley and Lester Wilson, have their jumpers dialed in, the Bucs are dangerous indeed.

The question usually comes down to whether they can get stops in the closing minutes. Opponents are averaging over 75 points a game, and having to win shootouts in March can be a dicey proposition.

At least the Bucs are in the chase on their way out of the Atlantic Sun.

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