A basketball date with Tennessee Tech has gotten to be an annual affair for East Tennessee State, and that hasn’t been a good thing lately.
The Bucs visit Cookeville tonight hoping to break a two-game losing streak in the series that dates back to 1923. They still lead their old Ohio Valley Conference rival 36-35.
“We like the Tennessee Tech series,” Bucs coach Murry Bartow said Monday. “They’re a regional opponent that’s close, and we want to keep it going. It just works for both of us.
“Of course, they’ve beaten us the last two years, so we’ve gotta play better.”
The Golden Eagles won last year in the Dome 65-62 behind Judd Dillard’s 25 points and 10 rebounds. It was an 83-74 game in Cookeville two years ago, ending ETSU’s win streak in the series at six.
The Bucs (2-4) return to Eblen Center with some momentum.
They just defeated Stephen F. Austin and Samford two nights apart at Freedom Hall, and Bartow thinks his team made strides in the process. At the very least, he went with the same starting lineup in both games and got some much-needed continuity.
“We’re still not as stable as we want to be,” he said, “but we’re getting closer. I thought the Stephen F. Austin game was a good win over a veteran team, an NCAA tournament team a year ago.
“We had a lot of guys step up and make big plays. We’re still a work in progress, obviously, but that’s back-to-back wins where we’ve shown some progress.”
Rashawn Rembert led the way against the Lumberjacks with 18 points and became the team’s leading scorer for the season (13.7). The junior guard is shooting 45 percent from behind the arc, with 14 of the Bucs’ 34 3-pointers.
“He can score the ball,” said Bartow. “I continue to want him to be better at the other end, but offensively he has a lot of confidence.”
Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard is the Bucs’ other double-figure scorer, at 13.5, and their second-leading rebounder and assist man. Freshman A.J. Merriweather is scoring at a 9.8 clip and leads them in rebounding (7.5).
Bartow is still looking for more punch from perimeter guys like Lester Wilson and Jalen Riley.
Wilson was the team’s leading returning scorer but has been erratic so far this season. He tossed in 20 points in the Samford win, then followed with three on 1-for-4 shooting against SFA.
Riley, the junior-college guard, is also trying to dial in his highly touted jumper.
“We definitely have more guys with the ability to make shots,” said Bartow. “We still haven’t gotten Jalen going, and Lester is still off and on, and we really need to get him going.”
Forward Ron Giplaye is finally about ready to get going. The former Providence College transfer has yet to play a game for the Bucs after sitting out last season and then undergoing heart surgery in August.
Giplaye has been practicing for a couple of weeks now and could join the fray any day.
“He’s been cleared to play,” said Bartow of the 6-6, 250-pound junior. “It just depends on the way he feels and how I feel. I’ve been wanting him to get more reps in practice to make sure he’s ready to contribute.
“Obviously he’s got size and really has a great feel for the game offensively. Defensively he can bang and rebound.”
The Bucs face a Tennessee Tech team tonight that is 3-4 and coming off its first home loss, 70-63 to Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Saturday. The Golden Eagles were picked last in their division of the OVC.
The leading scorers are junior guard Ty Allen (13.0) and freshman guard DeOndre Haynes (10.0). Senior forward Dennis Ogby averages 8.0 points and 6.4 rebounds.
Ogby scored 11 against the Bucs last season in what proved to be the last game for ETSU guards Sheldon Cooley and Marcus Dubose, who were arrested on drug charges and ultimately dismissed from the team.
Cooley missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer.