Marcus Dubose got the East Tennessee State basketball team off to a blazing start Saturday in the Dome, and the seniors took it from there.
Dubose scored 13 of his 23 points in the first seven minutes as the Bucs built a big lead and cruised past Florida Gulf Coast 84-71 in the final game of the regular season.
The victory was the third straight for the Bucs (16-13, 10-8) and sends them into the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament as the No. 4 seed. They’ll face fifth-seeded North Florida in a Thursday quarterfinal at 2:30 next week in Macon, Ga.
“We’ve played pretty decent the last three games now,” said ETSU coach Murry Bartow. “We’ve won three in a row and maybe have a little momentum for the tournament.”
The Bucs swept North Florida in the regular season, but were knocked out of the tournament by the Ospreys last year.
“I’m sure that will be on our guys’ minds,” said Bartow.
The Bucs put together an inspired performance against the Eagles, who had beaten them 72-63 in early December.
An appreciative crowd of 3,346 saluted seniors Adam Sollazzo, Isiah Brown and Tommy Hubbard before their final home game, and the group responded with 54 points, 22 rebounds and 13 steals.
Sollazzo scored 19 points to surpass 1,000 for his career, and he also had eight assists, eight rebounds and four steals. He needed 17 points to reach the milestone.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “When you first get here and think about 1,000 points … it’s been a great run. I love these guys like my family.
“A couple of tears might have rolled out of my eyes, but don’t tell anyone.”
Some of the emotion came from memories of Seth Coy, Sollazzo’s roommate during his freshman year. Coy died in a car accident while returning home to Indiana in the summer of 2009.
Members of the Coy family were part of the pregame ceremonies on Saturday.
“Seeing Seth’s family really got to me,” said Sollazzo, who has been wearing Coy’s No. 43 jersey number since his death. “It made me realize we really have four seniors, not three.”
Brown turned in an energetic 20 points, seven rebounds and five steals, while Hubbard collected 15, seven and four, respectively.
Hubbard wasn’t cleared to play until earlier in the day, having suffered a blow to the head Monday night at Lipscomb. He sat out the victory over Stetson on Thursday night.
“I had to take another test after the shootaround today and talk to the doctor,” said Hubbard. “I wasn’t sure I was going to play. Thank goodness I did good on that test.”
The Bucs passed everything with flying colors on this day.
The offense, in particular, flowed in a way that has been seldom seen this season. The team scored 80 points for the first time in 16 games, shooting 51 percent from the field, including 62 percent in the second half.
The Bucs’ lead was 40-26 at the break, with Dubose accounting for 16 of those points. He had four 3-pointers in the half; two came during an opening 12-0 run.
The Bucs just fed off of it, holding a double-digit lead for almost all of the last 26 minutes.
“It was a great effort from everyone, very emotional out there,” said Brown. “It’s crazy to think how much time we’ve spent on that floor, and we won’t have any more moments out there together.”
Brown made 9 of his 11 shots and threw down a windmill dunk for emphasis in the final minute of a fairly chippy second half that included four technical fouls. One was called on Brown for too much chatter.
About the only thing the 6-8 forward from Miami didn’t accomplish was securing the school’s career record for blocked shots. He needed one to tie Zakee Wadood’s total of 182 but didn’t get any for the second straight game.
“They’re not coming in there no more,” said Brown with a shrug. “But I’ve still got time.”
Leading the nation in steals, the Bucs added 16 more to their total. And that came without their steals leader, Sheldon Cooley, who remains on indefinite suspension and missed his second straight game.
Florida Gulf Coast (13-16, 8-10) had four players score in double figures, led by Bernard Thompson with 14. Filip Cvjeticanin poured in four 3-pointers late as the Eagles scrambled back from 21 points down and finished with 13.
Sherwood Brown added 12 and Dante Holmes 11.
The Eagles will be the sixth seed in Macon and face No. 3 South Carolina Upstate in the Thursday nightcap.