North Florida (8-13, 3-5) at ETSU (5-15, 3-4)
Saturday, 4 p.m.
He’s a big guy with a big name, and now Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard is trying to play a more sizeable role for the East Tennessee State basketball team.
The junior-college transfer hadn’t scored in double figures but twice all season before going for 14 points a week ago in a win at Kennesaw State. On Thursday night, Gadsden-Gilliard backed that up with his first double-double, 15 points and 10 rebounds, in an 83-80 loss to Jacksonville.
The 6-5, 250-pound forward also had five assists and made all eight of his free-throw attempts as ETSU continued to show marked improvement on the offensive end.
The Bucs (5-15, 3-4) will try to get back to even in the Atlantic Sun Conference today when North Florida (8-13, 3-5) visits the Dome. Tipoff is 4 o’clock, following the women’s game at 1:30.
The leap from the juco ranks to Division I basketball has admittedly been a challenge for Gadsden-Gilliard, a Georgetown, S.C., native who played last season at Roane State. He spent most of the non-conference schedule passing from the wing instead of looking to score.
“I think the biggest transition has been just trying to figure out where I fit in so I help the team the best,” he said Friday. “We lost two key guards early, and I’m one of the best passers on the team, so I thought that would be where I could help the most. Coach has told me I need to be more aggressive and be more of a scorer. That’s what I’m trying to do now.”
Gadsden-Gilliard’s progress was also hampered the first month of the season by an ankle injury.
“I was in pretty good shape coming into the preseason, then I hurt my ankle and missed 3-4 weeks of hard practices,” he said. “I could ride the bike, but that’s not the same as playing and I kind of got out of shape. Physically, I think I’m almost back to where I need to be. I still get winded some, but I’m in much better shape.”
KGG is now averaging 5.1 points and 3.2 rebounds, and he’s third on the team in assists, with 30. He’s been playing about 22 minutes a game.
What he’s produced in the last week is more in line with what coach Murry Bartow expected to see all along.
Gadsden-Gilliard was the Tennessee junior college player of the year last season after averaging 14 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
“If you watched Kinard in junior college, you would have seen a facilitator, a passer, a distributor,” said Bartow. “He was never selfish with the ball. But on this team we need him to be aggressive and score.
“He’s a big guy who’s really good at plugging into gaps and making plays. He’s strong, a good passer and a pretty good shooter. It’s encouraging how he’s played the last couple of games. We need more of that.”
The Bucs, who suffered through an eight-game losing streak in December, are still trying to figure out how to string wins together. Though they’ve been competitive in conference play, they have yet to win back-to-back games.
Against Jacksonville, the Bucs led by 11 in the first half but fell behind by 13 early in the second half. They battled back and eventually got a lead briefly when Jarvis Jones hit a 3-pointer with two minutes left but couldn’t hold it.
Still, the Bucs finished 21 points above their season average. They shot 48 percent from the field, made 10 of 23 from 3-point range and 18 of 19 at the foul line.
And they lost.
“You plug one hole and another one opens,” said Bartow. “Three weeks ago we were struggling to hit 50. Now we’re starting to score but not playing as well defensively.”
Asked if he’d rather have trouble scoring, or stopping people from scoring, Bartow said, “I’d rather be good at both ends with really good, experienced players. We’ve been challenged with this team.”
Three of the Bucs’ four conference losses have come down to the final minute, and that gives the coach some reason for optimism heading into February.
“One thing with our team, which is a huge positive, is that these comebacks are not just happening by accident,” said Bartow. “The fact we were way down at Charleston Southern and came back and won, that we were down 19 against Florida Gulf Coast and came back and won, that we were down 13 in the second half last night and could have won, it says something about the fight in our team.”
The Bucs will face a North Florida team today that has also been treading water. The Ospreys have lost four of their last five games, including a hard-fought 63-57 game Thursday night at South Carolina Upstate.
Coach Matt Driscoll’s team finds itself in a three-way tie for seventh in the A-Sun, right behind ETSU. The Ospreys expected to be better after going 10-8 in the league last season, their first winning campaign since moving up from Division II six years ago.
“Matt has done a great job of turning the program and changing the culture there,” said Bartow.
Driscoll does have some weapons at his disposal.
“The things that jump out are, number one, (Travis) Wallace is a physical post player,” said Bartow. “And Parker Smith is one of the best shooters in college basketball. He’s made over 80 threes on the year, and he’s shooting over 45 percent behind the arc.”
Smith leads the team in scoring, at 16.4 ppg. Wallace, a 6-6, 230-pound junior, is a 60 percent shooter who averages 14.7 points and 5.2 rebounds.
The Ospreys have been without one of the league’s top guards since early in the season. Jerron Granberry played only five games before taking a leave of absence after his father’s death in November.
Granberry came into the season with over 1,000 career points.