With dwindling roster numbers, one thing the East Tennessee State basketball team can’t afford is getting into foul trouble.
So far, that hasn’t been a problem -- to a historic extent.
The Bucs’ opponents have gone two entire games without making a free throw, something that has likely never happened before in the program’s history.
Georgia went 0 for 1 from the line in its 54-38 victory over ETSU, and Milligan College didn’t attempt a free throw in the Bucs’ 94-46 win.
The best anybody at ETSU could figure was that an opponent hadn’t gone even one game without making a free throw since at least 1984.
As quirky as the stat seems, ETSU coach Murry Bartow says it comes from part of the team’s plan.
“It’s a huge part of what we do defensively,” he said. “At practice, you hear us say it all the time, ‘Don’t foul. Don’t foul.’ Now it’s become even a stronger message. But if you start playing too tentative and start playing less aggressively, then that’s a problem.
“The five starters, they’ve all got to play 30-plus minutes. Really a lot of them probably won’t come out. So if they start fouling, it creates a serious problem.”
The streak is unlikely to continue tonight when the short-handed Bucs play at James Madison.
ETSU will be playing without point guard Petey McClain, who injured an ankle in practice on Sunday. He had an MRI on Tuesday and learned that surgery would not be necessary.
“I don’t know if that means two weeks, three weeks or how long,” Bartow said. “But the encouraging thing was no surgery is required, which is good news. We needed some good news.”
Forward Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard is also suffering from an ankle ailment and has been limited in recent weeks. He’s expected to give it a go tonight.
“He’s definitely not at full speed,” Bartow said. “I don’t know what speed he’s at. I just don’t know how effective he’ll be.”
With Gadsden-Gilliard in action, it leaves ETSU with seven scholarship players and walkon Todd Halvorsen, who might be forced into some extra playing time.
“We’ve got enough firepower to get done what we need to get done,” said forward Lester Wilson. “Regardless of how many people we have, all we need is five. We’ve been put in this situation plenty of times. It’s not like this is the first time. People know we have to step up.”
Rashawn Rembert will get his second start in the backcourt for the Bucs (2-3). Rembert and John Walton are the only two players available tonight who had scored for ETSU before this season, and their combined points total was 36.
With ETSU’s two starting guards, Sheldon Cooley and Marcus Dubose having been dismissed after their arrests, Lukas Poderis out for the season with an Achilles’ tendon injury and Jarvis Jones being academically ineligible, the Bucs are short-handed like they haven’t been since the 1996 season, when they had six scholarship players for a while.
The depleted roster has put even more pressure on Wilson to score for the Bucs, and the first-year player has responded. Wilson is averaging 19.4 points a game, tops among the nation’s freshmen.
James Madison (2-5) is coming off a 71-61 victory over Winthrop. Rayshawn Goins, a 6-6 senior, leads a balanced James Madison attack, averaging 15.4 points and 8.3 rebounds a game. Andre Nation, a 6-5 freshman, averages 11.4, and Andrey Semenov, a 6-7 senior, averages 10.0. Semenov recently returned from an injury.
A.J. Davis, a 6-6 senior, is back after being suspended one game for a violation of team rules. He’s the Dukes’ leading returning scorer from last year and was a preseason All-Colonial Athletic Association selection. He was averaging 5.8 points in only 17 minutes a game this season before his suspension.
“Obviously, we’re an incredibly banged up team,” Bartow said. “The key for us would be that the five or six guys who play a lot of minutes play well. There is no margin for error. If the five or six that play play really well, then we can win.”