After having a ball in the Hall, the East Tennessee State basketball team will try to make itself at home in the Dome again.
The Bucs return to the MSHA Athletics Center for the first time in almost a month tonight when they host Tusculum College. They played their last three home games at Freedom Hall, and won all three.
"I've almost forgotten about playing in the Dome, it's been so long," said sophomore guard Lester Wilson. "Hopefully we can continue what we had going at Freedom Hall, but it's a different atmosphere. If you had 5,000 in the Dome, it would be like 2,000 in the other building."
The Bucs (4-6) won't draw a big crowd tonight for a Division II team that is 1-10 and riding an eight-game losing streak. But they simply need to build some momentum before the Atlantic Sun Conference schedule begins, and Tusculum is where it starts.
The last three games of the year are non-conference matchups in the Dome, including Austin Peay on Saturday and Valparaiso on Dec. 29. The Bucs hadn't even practiced on that floor in a few weeks until Sunday.
They lost both of their early games in the Dome, against Morehead State and Winthrop.
"Hopefully we can get a feel for it again pretty quick," said coach Murry Bartow. "The three games at Freedom Hall were really good for us. The players enjoyed them, and the energy in a smaller venue was positive. The crowd noise helped us, because a couple of those games were very tight."
The Bucs have been on finals break since getting drubbed at Georgia Tech, 87-57, nine days ago. They made just one of their first 14 shots and quickly faded away.
The Yellow Jackets were their first opponent of the season from a power conference, and they proved too big and strong to handle.
"You analyze it and study what went wrong," said Bartow, "but at the same time, you don't overembellish it. It was a very, very bad matchup for us in terms of size and Georgia Tech's strengths against our weaknesses, and we got off to a bad start. In game like that, you're counting on your two or three best players to to have great games. That didn't happen, and things went south in a hurry.
"We won't see a team like Georgia Tech again this season."
About the only individual bright spot for ETSU was freshman A.J. Merriweather, who had 18 points and seven rebounds. He's now averaging 11.4 and 7.4, respectively, and leads the A-Sun in rebounding. He's also shooting 56 percent from the field.
"We weren't hitting shots at Georgia Tech, and you could blow a game like that off," said the 6-2 Merriweather. "But you've gotta learn from your mistakes, and we made a lot of them. We're really focusing on transition defense and being smarter with the ball."
Rashawn Rembert leads the team in scoring, at 12.9 ppg., and Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard is also in double figures (12.4). The Bucs are being outscored by an average of 75-72 and outrebounded 39-34.
They should narrow that gap tonight against a Tusculum team that is 0-6 in the South Atlantic Conference and hasn't won since Nov. 15 against Trevecca Nazarene. The Pioneers' leading scorer is senior guard Addison Flynn (17.3), who has made 37 of 75 from 3-point range.