Home has been anything but sweet for the East Tennessee State basketball team, so trying out a new venue can't hurt.
The Bucs, in search of their first victory of the young season, play host to Samford tonight in the first of three games at Freedom Hall.
“We're looking forward to getting over there,” ETSU coach Murry Bartow said. “Right now, it's honestly a needed change. To get in a different venue, maybe that will change our luck a little bit.”
The Bucs are 0-2 at the Minidome, 0-4 overall. Their next three home games are at Freedom Hall in what is being called the First Bank and Trust Company Roundball Showcase. They'll also take on Stephen F. Austin on Saturday and Marshall on Nov. 30.
“It's gonna be different,” ETSU forward Hunter Harris said. “I'm excited about it and my team is too. The crowd's gonna be packed in. The fans are gonna be involved, more close to us. I think it's gonna be exciting.”
The 7 p.m. game is part of a doubleheader. The ETSU women will play host to Morehead State at 4:45 p.m.
The Bucs last played at Freedom Hall on Dec. 15, 2001, when they beat James Madison, 84-57. This series of games is being viewed as a test-run for the possibility of the team playing more games there in future years, maybe even a permanent move.
“It's a great basketball venue,” Bartow said. “It's tight, people are right on top of you and there's really not a bad seat in the house. From a basketball standpoint, it's really a nice place to play.”
The Bucs are coming off a 76-66 home defeat at the hands of Winthrop, a game in which they used a 15-0 run in the second half to seize the lead only to falter down the stretch.
Since opening the season with a home victory over NAIA school Martin Methodist, Samford has lost three road games, including 105-59 to Indiana and 86-52 to Louisiana-Monroe in its last two outings.
The Bulldogs have four players averaging in double figures, led by 6-foot-4 junior Raijon Kelly at 12.0 points per game. Sophomore point guard Russell Wilson averages 5.0 assists a game.
The Bucs are being led by 6-foot-5 senior Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard, who averages 13.3 points a game and is shooting 54 percent from 3-point range. Rashawn Rembert is averaging 12.8 points.
ETSU is 0-4 for the first time since the 1975-76 season and is trying to avoid its first 0-5 start since 1942.
“We've just got to play better,” Bartow said. “It doesn't matter where we're playing, but I think our guys are excited. We're eager to get over there and try to feel it out.”
ETSU is 2-0 all-time against Samford. The two teams haven't met since 1980, when the Bucs took an 86-78 decision. They will be Southern Conference rivals next year when ETSU rejoins the league.