The East Tennessee State basketball team still hasn’t strung together wins this season. Now might be a good time to start.
The Bucs head into a stretch of four home games in the next five tonight when they host Jacksonville. They’ve split their first six Atlantic Sun Conference games.
“We’re not good enough to look very far in advance,” coach Murry Bartow said Wednesday, “but we’ve got some home games coming up and hopefully we can play well. November and December, it was hard to put anything together with our schedule. This is really the best opportunity we’ve had.”
The Bucs (5-14) find themselves in a fifth-place tie in the conference, just one game out in the loss column. Jacksonville, meanwhile, is one of the surprise teams. Picked seventh in the preseason, the Dolphins (10-10) are currently tied for second, at 5-2, with favorite Mercer.
Stetson is the biggest surprise, off to a 6-2 start.
“There are a lot of very equal teams in our league, not one dominant team,” said Bartow. “It’s going to be jumbled up. If we keep improving, we have a chance to stay in the mix.”
The Bucs have been getting production from some new sources lately.
Point guard Petey McClain has been able to play through painful ankle injuries that caused him to miss seven games – all losses. The freshman has averaged eight points and five assists over the last three, running the offense for 32 minutes a game.
Former junior-college forwards Hunter Harris and Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard also appear to be figuring things out as the conference race heats up. Gadsden-Gilliard scored a season-high 14 points last Saturday in a 70-60 victory at Kennesaw State.
“They’re improving as we get midway into the season,” said Bartow. “Playing against people in our league is different for those guys than what we faced early. Kinard played really well at Kennesaw, which is what we envisioned when we brought him in.”
Lester Wilson continues to lead the team in scoring (15.3) and rebounding (5.6). Jarvis Jones is the only other double-figure scorer, at 14.2.
The Bucs will face one of the more athletic forwards in the league tonight in Glenn Powell. The 6-6 senior is fourth in rebounding (7.6), third in field-goal percentage (.572) and averages 10.1 points.
Junior guard Keith McDougald leads the Dolphins in scoring (11.5), and freshman guard Jarvis Haywood (10.5) is also in double figures. Javon Dawson, a 6-6, 260-pound transfer from Utah, had 17 points and six rebounds in a nine-point win at North Florida last Saturday.
“A lot of programs are very similar from year to year, and that’s true with Jacksonville,” said Bartow. “Cliff (Warren) does a good job there, and they’re always a very athletic team. The Powell kid is tough to deal with inside. McDougald can really shoot it. We’ll have to play well to beat them.”