The shots are finally starting to fall for the East Tennessee State basketball team, but so is the defense.
The Bucs couldn’t convert one of their better offensive games of the season into a victory Monday night as Jacksonville held them off 83-80 in the Dome.
“For us to score 80 and lose is very disappointing,” said coach Murry Bartow. “It was one of those games that could have gone either way. It was right there.”
The loss dropped the Bucs to 3-4 in the Atlantic Sun Conference and 5-15 overall. They have yet to win back-to-back games this season and are 2-6 at home.
“It’s tough,” said freshman guard Lester Wilson, who again led the Bucs in scoring with 19 points. “You’re supposed to protect your house. The fans expect us to come out and win here.”
The Dolphins improved to 6-2, 11-10 with their fourth straight victory.
The Bucs led 44-42 at the half after shooting 53 percent. Rashawn Rembert had four 3-pointers and 14 points at the break; the sophomore guard finished with 17, just one off his career high.
Still, Jacksonville was within a basket after shooting 51 percent, including seven 3-pointers.
“It was one of our better offensive halves,” said Wilson, “and one of our worst defensive halves.”
The momentum swung Jacksonville’s way early in the second half. The Dolphins put together a 14-2 run during the first six minutes, with junior guard Keith McDougald scoring nine of his game-high 23 points.
The Jacksonville lead would grow to 13, at 65-52, before the Bucs battled back behind Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard and Jarvis Jones.
Gadsden Gilliard upped his season scoring high for the second straight game, with 15 points, and also had 10 rebounds and five assists. He made all eight of his free throws.
“He’s coming on, getting better,” said Bartow.
Jones finished with 14 points and five assists while playing all 40 minutes. (KGG and Wilson never took a seat either.)
Gadsden-Gilliard triggered an eight-point run with a three at the 9:28 mark. Wilson punctuated it with a dunk, and the Bucs were within three with eight minutes left.
Jones then scored seven straight for the Bucs. His 3-pointer put them ahead 76-75 with 1:58 to play.
Down the stretch it was Javon Dawson, the Dolphins’ 6-6, 260-pound junior who came up biggest.
First, Dawson scored on a jumper just outside the foul line with one second left on the shot clock. He was fouled and made the free throw to restore Jacksonville’s lead to two.
After two free throws by Hunter Harris at the other end, Russell Powell hit a tough jumper for the Dolphins, again with the shot clock running down. Dawson then rattled in two more tosses to make it 82-78 with 12 seconds left.
Petey McClain pulled the Bucs back within a basket when he sliced for a layup with seven seconds left. Dawson was fouled again and made the first of two free throws with 6.4 seconds left. The Bucs pushed the ball upcourt but couldn’t get off a good shot in the closing seconds.
Wilson threw up an off-balance prayer in traffic at the buzzer.
The Bucs finished 21 points above their season average, and they did it by making 10 of 23 from 3-point range and 18 of 19 at the foul line. They have hit at least 70 in four of the last five games.
“Early in the year we were struggling to get 55, 60 points,” said Bartow. “I won’t say we’ve figured it out, but we’re scoring better now. But our defense has dipped some.”
The Dolphins shot 53 percent against them and made 10 of 24 on 3-pointers. Dylan Fritsch had five of those and finished with 17 points.
He and McDougald each scored about double their season average. Dawson did better than that, with 16 points.
The Bucs host North Florida on Saturday while the Dolphins travel to South Carolina Upstate.