When will it end?
That’s the pressing question for the East Tennessee State basketball team as it carries a nine-game losing streak into Northern Kentucky tonight.
The Bucs didn’t win in December, and they started the new year with a 51-point drubbing at home to Virginia Commonwealth that equaled their worst loss ever. After dropping their Atlantic Sun Conference opener by four Saturday night at Lipscomb, coach Murry Bartow was compelled to say it felt good just to have a chance to win again.
This skid is the longest in Bartow’s decade-long tenure at ETSU — the longest, in fact, since Ed DeChellis’s first season in 1996-97. It has been marked by arrests, injuries and just plain bad offense.
At last report, the Bucs ranked among the nation’s worst teams in scoring (310, out of 345), scoring margin (338), assists (337), assist-turnover ratio (328) and rebound margin (332). They had been beaten by at least 18 points in every game during their losing streak until Saturday night.
They managed just 19 points in the first half against Lipscomb, a team that had been surrendering 78 per outing. To their credit, the Bucs scrapped to make a game of it in quiet Allen Arena, pulling ahead briefly with 10 minutes to play, only to watch the Bison pull away for a 60-56 victory.
Lester Wilson had a 3-pointer to tie in the closing seconds but couldn’t connect. The redshirt freshman scored all 16 of his points in the second half.
“We just gotta start winning,” Wilson said outside a somber ETSU lockerroom. “It’s conference time, and that’s our bread and butter. When you lose now, it really hurts.”
Can the Bucs break the spell at Northern Kentucky, the A-Sun newcomer?
The Norse, as they’re called, are 3-8 in their first year of Division I basketball. But they at least have a conference win in hand, having won 65-52 at North Florida last week.
With a loss tonight, ETSU will match the 2-13 start of coach Leroy Fisher’s 1975-76 team. That outfit finished at 6-20.
The once-powerful Bucs certainly look like an easy mark coming into the 10,000-seat Bank of Kentucky Center.
“We’re going to have to play better than we did tonight,” Bartow said at Lipscomb, nevertheless calling the loss “a step in the right direction.”
Back during the misery of November and December, the coach kept pointing to the 18-game conference schedule as a chance to make a fresh start. Now that it’s here, he’s talking about “just trying to get better” and maybe be competitive come tournament time.
As unlikely as that seems now, Kennesaw State’s upset of preseason favorite Mercer on Saturday night is proof that strange things can happen in the A-Sun. The Owls are 2-13.
“I think the league is wide open,” said Bartow. “We just want to be in position at the end to win the tournament.”
First, the Bucs need to win a game.