In a basketball season where very little has gone right, even the best offensive performance to date didn’t pay off for East Tennessee State.
The Bucs shot 52 percent with only nine turnovers Thursday night against Stetson but were left with a 72-70 loss. The 70 points were the most they’ve scored against a Division I team – 13 above their season average.
“It’s not like we were perfect every possession, because we were not,” coach Murry Bartow said Friday. “But the big picture is we shoot 52 percent and score 70 with nine turnovers. If I could take those numbers for every game the rest of the year, I would.”
Unfortunately, the Bucs were outscored badly from the 3-point arc (33-18) and foul line (13-4) in suffering their fourth home loss in five games.
They stand at 3-13, the program’s worst start since the 1975-76 season, and are 1-2 in the Atlantic Sun Conference. And now along comes Florida Gulf Coast, the surprising frontrunner.
Tonight’s matchup is certainly one of teams heading in different directions.
Gulf Coast (12-6, 4-1) has won four of its last five, including a 72-71 overtime affair Thursday night at South Carolina Upstate. The only loss came at preseason favorite Mercer, also in overtime.
This is another team on the rise under a second-year head coach.
Andy Enfield, the former Florida State assistant, led the Eagles to a 15-17 record in his debut, their best mark in five seasons of Division I basketball. More significantly, they reached the A-Sun final against Belmont as a 6-seed after beating Upstate and then Mercer on its home floor.
The Eagles appear to have taken the momentum and run with it.
“I really like their team, unfortunately,” said Bartow. “They’re well-coached, they’re not easy to score on, offensively they have some nice pieces of the puzzle. (Bernard) Thompson and (Sherwood) Brown are certainly two of the upper-echelon guys in our league.
“They’re coming in here on an emotional high, and we’re going to have to play a really, really good game to beat them.”
ETSU leads the series 7-2; the teams split last season, with each winning on its home floor.
After a string of non-conference blowouts, Bartow takes some consolation from all three A-Sun games so far going down to the last minute. The Bucs lost at Lipscomb and won at Northern Kentucky.
“That tells me we’re not that far away in the league,” he said. “I keep telling the players I think we’re good enough to win games and be a contender in this league. But I can tell you with this team we’re not going to win any games by a lot. Every game is a hard game with this roster.”
Bartow said point guard Petey McClain’s playing status is “day to day.” The freshman has been battling ankle injuries and played just 13 minutes against Stetson.
Jarvis Jones picked up the slack and scored 19 points. Lester Wilson led the Bucs with 21, while Hunter Harris had his best all-around game of the season with 16 points and seven rebounds.
The Eagles, meanwhile, were winning a thriller in Spartanburg, S.C. Chase Fieler’s layup with 1.5 seconds left in overtime lifted them to the top of the A-Sun standings and snapped Upstate’s four-game winning streak.
Fieler finished with 17 points, one of five Gulf Coast players scoring in double figures. Thompson led the way with 19, and Brown had 14 and 11 rebounds. Both players are averaging 14 points a game this season.
The Eagles are scoring a league-best 71.6 points per game. The Bucs are ninth, at 57.3.
ETSU ranks last in scoring margin (-11.9), assists (9.9), field goal percentage (.386), 3-point field goal percentage (.293) and free throw percentage (.641).