The way his coach sees it, Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard may have exposed himself in East Tennessee State’s basketball season opener.
The senior forward erupted for 31 points, almost doubling his career high, in the Bucs’ 80-75 loss at Charlotte last Friday night.
Gadsden-Gilliard, at 6-6 and 250 pounds, was known more for being a very large passer on the wing in his first season with the Bucs. He scored in double figures only five times all season and averaged 5.1.
“Kinard is an interesting player,” coach Murry Bartow said Monday as his team prepared for tonight’s home opener against Morehead State. “By nature, he loves to pass. He’s one of those guys that would rather make the great pass than make the shot; sometimes you’ve gotta challenge him to score.
“As I told him yesterday, it’s the good and the bad. If you can go for 31 at Charlotte, which is one of the tougher games on our schedule, it kind of exposes you. The spotlight is going to be on you. We’re not expecting 31 every night, but if he goes for 4, 4 and 6 the next three games, we’re going to be wondering about him a little bit.”
Gadsden-Gilliard, a junior-college transfer from Georgetown, S.C., saw the breakout game as more the product of hard work and renewed confidence than anything else.
He’s still in the neighborhood of 250 pounds, but he’s a leaner 250. And he feels more comfortable after a season in the program.
“I had some injuries last year and was just not in the best of shape,” he said. “This year I’ve been absolutely in my best shape, and it has allowed me to go hard all the time. I’m also eating better — less carbs, more proteins and vegetables, none of the bad stuff.
“I knew I’d put in a lot of time in the gym in the offseason, and it was good to see it pay off right away. I really think 15 or 16 (points per game) this season is doable for me.”
The challenge now is for KGG to play well, and the Bucs to win.
They face an old foe tonight in the Eagles. The teams first tangled in 1954 and waged some spirited battles through the years in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Morehead State has won the last three games in the series to take a 27-24 lead. The most recent meeting was a 60-58 game in Kentucky in 2009.
The Eagles opened their season without breaking much of a sweat, defeating an NAIA team called Mid-Continent 107-60. Six players scored in double figures, led by senior guard Bakari Turner with 17.
Morehead returned eight players from a 15-18 team, but only one, junior guard Angelo Warner (10.9), averaged in double figures last season. The roster includes a 6-11, 265-pound center, senior Chad Posthumus, and a couple of 6-10 juniors, Billy Reader and DeAndre Leatherwood.
“They have a lot of size, and that’s very concerning,” said Bartow. “It’s a team with big, strong guys inside and experienced perimeter guys. I’ve watched four or five games on tape, and they’re very athletic and a good rebounding team.”
The Bucs were outsized at Charlotte, particularly by 6-10 sophomore Mike Thorne Jr., who scored a career-high 17 points with nine rebounds. Still it was a tight finish.
Lukas Poderis was standing at the foul line with seven seconds left and a chance to pull the Bucs into a tie. It didn’t happen.
“The mental dynamics of it … Lukas hasn’t played for a year and is not one of our better free throw shooters,” said Bartow. “The first one was a dead swish. The second was well-shot but hit the back of the rim and rattled out.
“One great thing was to be down nine or 10 in the second half with an inexperienced team, a lot of guys playing their first Division I game, and to be resilient enough to have a chance to tie with seven seconds left. Hopefully, we learned something from it.”
The Bucs had to chase most of the way, but Gadsden-Gilliard made sure the 49ers never got too far ahead.
He scored 13 of his team’s 15 points during a stretch in the second half, and showed a little bit of everything. For the game, he made four 4-pointers, a few mid-range jumpers and was also a load in the paint.
Gadsden-Gilliard got to the foul line nine times, making seven free throws.
“That’s my game, inside and out,” he said. “That was just a good night shooting the 3-ball. And that opened up my driving lanes.”
Rashawn Rembert added 11 points for the Bucs, while Lester Wilson and A.J. Merriweather scored 10 apiece. The team was outrebounded 45-35 and committed 19 turnovers.