MACON, Ga. -- A rousing, come-from-behind victory lifted the spirits of the East Tennessee State basketball team. Now coach Murry Bartow hopes it propels the Bucs to better days.
ETSU plays at Mercer tonight in an Atlantic Sun Conference game, five days after coming back from 19 points down to beat Florida Gulf Coast for its fourth victory of the season.
“Obviously, it gives you a good feeling, gives you some momentum,” Bartow said. “We’ve had the ability to come back some, which is a good sign for the team.”
Mercer, the preseason pick to win the A-Sun, has dropped two of its last three games to fall to 3-2 in the conference and is coming off a 49-47 loss at Jacksonville. The Bears are 10-8, one of only two A-Sun teams with a winning overall record. Among their wins are decisions over Alabama and Florida State.
The Bucs were down by 19 points to Florida Gulf Coast with 17 minutes remaining. There really wasn’t any reason to expect anything amazing to happen. Another loss appeared imminent.
Then the comeback happened, thanks to a game-closing 35-12 run, and the 85-75 victory has the team feeling better about itself.
“We were excited,” ETSU forward and leading scorer Lester Wilson said. “Now we know we have to keep the momentum going. We still have to try to correct some things we messed up in the first half. We still can’t overlook that first half because we didn’t play good.”
Suddenly, the Bucs are in the thick of what appears to be a wide-open A-Sun race. No team has fewer than two losses.
“There’s no dominant team,” Bartow said. “There seems to be a lot of parity.”
Travis Smith leads the Bears in scoring, averaging 12.2 points a game. The 6-3 senior has picked up his game since the A-Sun schedule has begun, averaging 16.8 points in conference games. Langston Hall, a preseason all-conference pick, averages 10.2. No Mercer player is averaging more than 4.6 rebounds a game.
Wilson continues to lead ETSU, averaging 15.8 points a game. Jarvis Jones is at 15.0.
ETSU (4-13, 2-2) and Mercer have played some intense games in recent years, but Wilson says any history between the two teams will be lost on the current Bucs roster.
“A lot of these players haven’t played them, including me,” Wilson said. “I don’t know what they can do. I’m not really worried about what they can do. All I know is we need to go out and play.”
After being among the worst offensive teams in the country statistically during their non-conference schedule, the Bucs have shown some improvement in the last few games. They scored 70 against Stetson before the 85-point outburst against Florida Gulf Coast.
“If you really analyze it, after four conference games, we are improving our team,” Bartow said. “We are a better team than we were a week and a half ago. Our offensive numbers are much better. Our shooting percentage is better, offensive execution is better, turnovers are down and we’re shooting free throws better.”
The road trip will continue Saturday with an afternoon game at Kennesaw State.