Two halves make a whole, and that’s what East Tennessee State basketball coach Murry Bartow is hoping to get from his team.
The Bucs have shown flashes of quality play lately, yet haven’t been able to put together a complete game. Even in their victories, they’ve either fallen way behind before coming back or have had to hold on to win.
“That’s part of being young, part of being inexperienced,” Bartow said. “We obviously have been up and down, and not just game-to-game. It’s been half-to-half and even within a half.”
Northern Kentucky comes to town to face the Bucs tonight at the Minidome. The two teams are tied for sixth place in the Atlantic Sun Conference at 4-5, but they’re only two games out of first. That makes tonight’s game big for both teams.
The Norse has won two games in a row, something ETSU has yet to do all season. Northern Kentucky (6-11) leads the country in an interesting statistic: 41 percent of its points come on 3-point baskets.
The Bucs (6-16) are coming off an 88-71 loss at USC-Upstate, a game in which they were leading by a point at halftime before faltering over the final 20 minutes.
“It’s part of not having a bunch of senior, veteran guys that can stabilize a team when you need to be stabilized,” Bartow said. “When it goes south for us, it can really go south. But we’ve also shown the flip side of that. We’ve got an incredible, maybe youthful, ability to come back, which has been great.”
ETSU beat Northern Kentucky, 49-44, three weeks ago despite not making a field goal over the final 9:17. It broke a nine-game losing streak.
“We were coming off a loss and we wanted to be more aggressive, drive it to the hole,” ETSU forward Hunter Harris said. “That’s the thing. We want to be aggressive. Same deal tomorrow.”
Eshaunte Jones, the Norse’s leading scorer at 15.2 points per game, had 18 against the Bucs. He has scored 26 and 25 in his last two games and is the reigning A-Sun player of the week. The 6-4 senior swingman has had 15 3-pointers in the last three games.
Jones took the long road to Northern Kentucky. He signed with Oregon State out of high school after committing to Indiana. He was let out of his letter of intent at Oregon State because of a coaching change and wound up at Nebraska, where he averaged 4.8 points in 28 games over two seasons before leaving to attend to family matters in Indiana. Now he’s in his second year at Northern Kentucky.
“With Jones, you have maybe the best player in the league, certainly one of the top couple guys in the league,” Bartow said. “He reminds me a lot of Kevin Tiggs. He’s just gonna play and he’ll get you points.”
Northern Kentucky’s Chad Jackson, who began his career at James Madison, made ESPN SportsCenter’s top 10 plays with a two-handed dunk on an offensive rebound against Kennesaw State on Saturday.
Lester Wilson continues to lead the Bucs in scoring at 15.5 points per game. Jarvis Jones is next at 14.8. ETSU power forward Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard has come on of late, averaging more than 13 points over the team’s last four games.
Harris has given the Bucs some of the production they were expecting, but he followed his 25-point effort against North Florida with a three-point night against USC-Upstate after being saddled with foul trouble and playing just 18 minutes.
“Kinard’s giving us a lot more, which we’ve needed,” Bartow said. “If Kinard and Hunter can play consistently well over the next month, it would really be a great boost to our team. We need great, consistent play from them here on out.”