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Bucs can clinch home game with win tonight

Joe Avento • Feb 21, 2014 at 10:05 PM

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The stage is set for the East Tennessee State basketball team: Win tonight against North Florida and the Bucs will play at least one home game in the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament.

The top four teams in the final standings will host games in the tournament’s first round. ETSU stands in fourth place, just ahead of North Florida. A victory over the Ospreys would give the Bucs a season sweep and guarantee they would finish no worse than fourth.

“We definitely want to have a home game, mainly for our fans,” ETSU forward Hunter Harris said. “The fans are like our sixth man.”

ETSU is coming off a 91-86 loss to Jacksonville in which it gave up 57 points in the second half. Lester Wilson scored a career-high 31 points, but every time the Bucs made a move down the stretch, the Dolphins answered with a big basket.

“All we needed was one or two stops,” said ETSU coach Murry Bartow, whose team comes into tonight’s game 16-13 overall, 9-7 in the A-Sun. “When you win games, you get stops. When you lose tight games, a lot of times it’s your inability to get a key stop.

“If someone would tell me they would score 57 in one half, I would have said you’re nuts.”

Wilson made 7 of 12 from 3-point range, including one when he was fouled in the left corner. He converted the four-point play.

“When he gets hot, we’ve got to find him,” Harris said. “He’s dangerous. We look for him every time.”

Harris was pretty dangerous himself the last time ETSU took on North Florida. The Bucs won 99-93 and Harris scored 24 points.

Facing a team that scored 93 points in the previous meeting — and coming off a game in which they gave up 91 — causes concern for ETSU.

“We’re gonna do what we do on offense,” Wilson said. “But defensively, we can’t have a shootout. At the end, if you don’t get stops, you’re not gonna win.”

North Florida (14-14, 8-7) worries Bartow, especially since the Ospreys made 12 3-pointers in the teams’ earlier meeting. Beau Beech went 8 of 11.

“They can really score,” Bartow said. “They’re very similar to Jacksonville, but they’ve beaten Jacksonville twice already.”

ETSU’s Rashawn Rembert needs two 3-pointers to catch Courtney Pigram for the school’s single-season record. A 1-for-9 effort against Jacksonville left him with 84.

After tonight, the Bucs have one more regular-season game, Friday at USC Upstate in what could turn out to be a battle for third place.

The A-Sun tournament begins on Tuesday, March 4.

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