The East Tennessee State basketball team was in need of another miraculous rally Tuesday night.
This time none was coming.
The Bucs fell way behind Charleston Southern again early, and that’s the way they finished in a 72-51 loss in Brooks Gym. At 2-7, they’ll ride a four-game losing streak to Hawaii for the Diamond Head Classic this weekend.
The Bucs’ only Division I win came at Charleston Southern a month ago, when they battled back from 20 points down to win 59-57. This time they trailed 37-18 at the half, and they did manage a run, getting within eight with 10:38 left.
But the drive stalled, and CSU finished the game on a 23-10 burst.
“I looked up and we were down 20 and we kept playing,” said Lester Wilson, who led the Bucs with 16 points – 13 in the second half. “I looked up again and it was single digits. I was saying, ‘This is déjà vu all over again. We can do this.’ Then I looked up again and we were down 20.”
ETSU coach Murry Bartow used what is becoming a familiar adjective for his team’s play.
“The last 12 minutes of the first half was abysmal,” he said, “and the last seven or eight minutes of the game was pretty abysmal. We didn’t finish well.”
They did start well, scoring the first seven points of the game and building a 12-3 lead as a crowd of 1,275 filled old Brooks Gym with noise. The Bucs still led by six when a power outage caused a five-minute delay and apparently sapped their offense.
They went more than six minutes without scoring, and the visiting Bucs took charge.
Led by sophomore Arlon Harper, CSU clicked off 18 straight points and finished the half on a 34-6 run.
Harper scored 20 of his 25 points in the half. The All-Big South Conference guard finished 9 of 14 from the field, including four 3-pointers, and also had six rebounds and four steals.
“He’s a guard who can do a lot of things,” said Bartow.
Jeremy Sexton chipped in with 15 points and six rebounds for CSU (4-5), and Cedrick Bowen added 14 and seven, respectively.
It was a quiet night for Saah Nimley, the team’s other all-conference guard who had been averaging over 14 points a game. He managed just six on 1-of-8 shooting and picked up his fourth foul with the Bucs making a run at the 12-minute mark.
Sheldon Strickland came off the bench with three big buckets down the stretch, however, as CSU pulled away and sent fans streaming to the exits with more than six minutes remaining.
Coach Barclay Radebaugh was admittedly concerned for awhile, considering his team’s collapse in Charleston last month.
“We were up 19 at half, and it happened again,” he said. “They played a great first 10 minutes in the second half and were right there again. We were able to make a couple of big shots to turn the momentum back our way.
“They’ve been dealt a tough hand, but it hasn’t affected their effort.”
Radebaugh is an ETSU alumnus (Class of ’87) who began his coaching career as a graduate assistant to Les Robinson. He didn’t mind bringing his team into the din of Brooks Gym – a move necessitated by ongoing installation of a new lighting system in the Dome – after a two-week layoff.
“I love it,” said Radebaugh. “Feels like home.”
The game was the only home date on the Bucs’ schedule in December. And now they head off for a matchup with fourth-ranked Arizona on Saturday.
The team leaves for the islands this morning.
The Bucs certainly need to muster more offense than they’ve shown the first month or so of the season. The 51 points they scored Tuesday night was close to their average against Division I competition.
Only Wilson and Jarvis Jones hit double figures. Jones had 13 but was 6 of 20 from the field – 1 of 9 on 3-pointers -- and also had six turnovers in his second game back from academic suspension.
“I’m just struggling,” he said. “Going from practice speed to game speed has been hard so far.”
The Bucs shot 35 percent from the field and got to the foul line only five times. They were outrebounded 42-28.