KENNESAW, Ga. – Kennesaw State’s basketball team hasn’t won many games over the past two seasons, but one recent victory has East Tennessee State coach Murry Bartow’s attention.
The Owls knocked off Mercer on Jan. 5 for their first Atlantic Sun Conference win in two years. Considering that Bartow’s Bucs were thrashed by that same Mercer team on Thursday night, the ETSU coach isn’t putting much stock in Kennesaw State’s 2-16 record.
“That’s all I need to know,” Bartow said. “For Kennesaw to beat Mercer, that’s all you need to know. I don’t look at records as much as I look at scores. If you look at their most recent four or five scores, almost every loss has been single digits. Their record is a little deceiving. I know we’ll have to play really well to win.”
The Bucs (4-14 overall, 2-3 A-Sun) are hoping their record is a bit deceiving as well. They’re coming off a 78-59 loss at Mercer, the preseason pick to win the A-Sun.
“We’ve got to play great every game we play to have a chance to win,” Bartow said. “With a young team, we’ve got no margin for error. We’ve got to coach well and we’ve got to play really, really well.”
Kennesaw State was 3-28 last year. The Owls are 1-23 in A-Sun games since Lewis Preston took over for Tony Ingle two seasons ago. That lone conference victory was the recent surprising decision over Mercer.
The Owls are led by Markeith Cummings, the A-Sun’s top scorer at 18.1 points per game. The 6-foot-6, 240-pound senior, ranks ninth in the conference in all-time scoring and is on pace to surpass 2,000 career points within a couple of weeks. He’s the reigning A-Sun player of the week, the fourth time he has won that award.
“Cummings might be the best player in our league, certainly one of the best,” Bartow said. “He’s an inside, outside threat. He can make threes, plus he’s strong. He can go by you.
“We obviously can’t guard him man-to-man. We’ve been more of a zone team. We just have to know where he’s at. He’s a hard guy to deal with. He can’t beat you by himself. We have to guard everybody, but he certainly is their guy.”
Delbert Love averages 12.1 points a game for the Owls.
ETSU killed itself at the foul line against Mercer, making 5 of 17 and missing nine in a row in the second half.
“We got to the line, which was good, but when you’re not making free throws, it looks bad,” Bartow said.
The Bucs will need to get Lester Wilson more involved in the offense. Their top scorer was held to three points against Mercer, only his third single-digit game. He was 1 for 7 from the field and played only 10 minutes in the second half.
One thing is for certain this afternoon. The Bucs can’t afford to overlook any opponent, even one with a 2-16 record which they have beaten 13 times in a row.
“If we take anything for granted, that would be comical,” Bartow said.