BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — The East Tennessee State basketball team is battling early in the season but doesn’t have much to show for it.
The Bucs dropped their third straight game Saturday night with a 57-50 loss to Western Kentucky. After falling behind by 17 early in the second half, they pulled to within five in the final minute but couldn’t get closer in the team’s first meeting since 1980.
“We’ve played three games this season, and obviously we know what the record is, but we’ve been in all three games,” said coach Murry Bartow. “All three have been tight and right to the wire. I’m not happy it, but the point is that we’re not that far away from starting to win some games.”
Junior guard Jalen Riley had by far his best showing of the young season for the Bucs, scoring a team-high 15 points. The junior-college transfer had just eight in the first two games combined.
The Bucs also got 11 points and 10 rebounds from senior forward Hunter Harris, and 10 points from Rashawn Rembert. It was a very quiet night for Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard, Lester Wilson and A.J. Merriweather; they combined for just 10 points.
The Bucs didn’t scored their first field goal until 81?2 minutes had elapsed and shot only 25 percent from the field for the game. They went 18 of 22 from the free-throw line.
“I think we’ve got some good offensive players,” said Bartow. “The number one thing is, am I putting them in the right position to score? If so, then they’ve just gotta make shots.”
Western Kentucky (1-1), the preseason favorite in the Sun Belt, was led by its all-conference duo of T.J. Price and George Fant, with 18 and 17 points, respectively.
The Hilltoppers committed 23 turnovers and missed 15 of their 32 free throws. They led 25-20 at halftime but were able to spurt away early in the second half.
The Bucs have a three-game homestand at home this week, beginning with a Tuesday night matchup against Winthrop. They’ll host Samford on Thursday night and Stephen F. Austin on Saturday; both games will be played at Freedom Hall.
“We’re playing a lot of guys, and I think that can help us in these three games,” said Bartow. “I’m glad we’re playing at home, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to win. We’ve got to make plays.”