As bad as things have gone at times in a 20-loss campaign, the East Tennessee State basketball team can still break even in conference play.
The Bucs close out the regular season at home tonight against South Carolina Upstate, and they’re playing for seeding in the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament next week. The teams are tied for fifth, at 8-9.
“It’s our last game, and it’s important,” ETSU coach Murry Bartow said Thursday. “I’m not smart enough to do all the math, since a lot of teams still have two games left, but I know we need to win and get some momentum heading into the tournament. That’s going to be wide-open.”
The other eight teams were in action Thursday night and will finish up the regular season on Saturday. The A-Sun tournament tips off next Wednesday in Macon, Ga.
Tonight will be the final home game for guard Jarvis Jones. The fifth-year senior from Memphis got off to a late start this season, missing the first seven games with academic troubles, but he’s been the Bucs’ most prominent player for the last month.
Jones, who is reportedly on track to graduate this spring, says the college experience has been a blessing.
“Seems like the time has gone by fast, and I’m going to miss it,” he said before practice Thursday in the Dome. “I came here and found a lot of friends. With some, I’ve created a brotherhood for life.”
Jones has made serious strides on the basketball court. He leads the Bucs in scoring at 16.4 points per game — almost four times his career average — and peaked with a 36-point explosion against Lipscomb a month ago. That game ended with him hitting the winning 3-pointer in overtime.
The left-hander started the preseason as one of four seniors on the team. Lukas Poderis suffered a torn Achilles tendon in a scrimmage and is redshirting, while Sheldon Cooley and Marcus Dubose were dismissed after encountering legal troubles just two games in.
The backcourt has been especially thin, and Jones has had to play significant minutes at point and shooting guard. He’s fourth in the league in scoring, second in steals and first in minutes played, at 37.1 per game.
“Circumstances have dictated that Jarvis play a lot of minutes, take a lot of shots and score a lot of points,” said Bartow. “He’s made the most of it. I think he’s had an all-conference type year.”
There haven’t been many other bright spots in a season in which the Bucs have lost 20 games for only the third time since 1968.
They didn’t get their 10th victory until last Saturday at Jacksonville, 61-58. That gave them a split of regular-season games with six opponents in the league. They can make it seven tonight.
“We’ve had a good week of practice. We really haven’t had many bad practices all year,” said Bartow. “We’ve obviously been inconsistent, but the guys’ spirits have been good. They’ve stayed upbeat.”
The Bucs are facing a team tonight that has had a disappointing season itself. Upstate was picked second in the preseason, behind Mercer, and was right there after beating ETSU 88-71 to finish the first half of the league schedule.
But the Spartans have struggled since, losing six of their last seven games. They were routed 77-53 at North Florida the last time out.
“They’ve got some good players,” said Bartow. “Torrey Craig is one of the best players in our league; he’s 6-6 and can shoot right over our zone. (Ricardo) Glenn always gives us trouble with his size. He’s a big body and hurt us bad the last game.”
Trailing by one, the Spartans pulled away with 55 points in the second half to bury the Bucs in Spartanburg. Craig, the A-Sun’s leading scorer, finished with 23 points, including six 3-pointers, and eight rebounds, while Glenn scored 16 points on 7-for-7 shooting and also grabbed eight boards.
Jones led the Bucs with 19 points. Lester Wilson and Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard added 16 apiece.