As the East Tennessee State basketball team prepares to hit the road for the first time in Atlantic Sun Conference play this season, the Bucs are hoping to continue their recent form.
ETSU comes into today's noon game at Kennesaw State as the league's hottest team, having won seven of its last nine games. Six of those seven victories came at home.
Playing on the road, the Bucs know, is an entirely different animal.
"Road games, they really show how well your chemistry is," ETSU freshman guard A.J. Merriweather said. "On a road game, you don't have many fans and it shows your brotherhood. We have to keep aggressive and don't get content."
Kennesaw State comes in 3-12 and has already dropped two conference games, each by more than 20 points. The Owls' only win over a Division I team came against UT-Chattanooga.
The Bucs have won 15 games in a row in the series after Kennesaw State won the initial meeting in overtime in 2006. They are 6-1 in the KSU Convocation Center locate don campus just north of Atlanta.
The Owls accounted for two of ETSU's 10 wins last year, falling 70-60 and 79-70.
"We went there last year and beat them handily, but we just want to go in there with the mentality we've been having and we want to beat them," ETSU forward Hunter Harris said. "We don't even worry about who it is, we just have to handle business."
The Bucs' last two wins came against Austin Peay and Valparaiso, and they were accomplished in different ways. Against Austin Peay, they used a late 14-0 run to pull away. They blew Valpo out of the Minidome in the first half and hung on for a 73-62 victory to improve to 7-6.
"Right now we feel pretty good," ETSU coach Murry Bartow said. "We're still trying to work on a lot of things and get better. The last month or so, we've played decent and won some games. As your confidence goes up, your performance goes up."
The Bucs have lost their A-Sun opener in each of the three previous seasons. Kennesaw State has lost 40 of its last 42 games against A-Sun teams.
Orlando Coleman, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, leads the Owls, averaging 11.6 and 6.8 rebounds a game. Point guard Delbert Love averages 10.4 points.
Kennesaw State will be without head coach Lewis Preston, who was granted a temporary leave of absence on Thursday. The school said Preston would be out because of "medical and personal reasons." Assistant coach Jimmy Lallathin will serve as interim head coach during Preston's absence.
ETSU guard Jalen Riley was chosen as the A-Sun's player of the week even though he hasn't started a game. Riley has come off the bench to spark the Bucs, and that's a role he'll continue to play for at least the immediate future.
"We look at him as a starter," Bartow said. "He's playing starter minutes. I don't know if he'll remain the sixth man or not. Right now we're in a decent groove and we feel pretty good with the way we're playing, so why change?"
The Bucs continue to have six players averaging at least 8.5 points a game. Rashawn Rembert leads the way at 14.8. Riley is second at 12.2.
With the A-Sun changing the format for its conference tournament, Bartow said it's important to get off to a good start in the league race. The higher seeded team will be the host of every tournament game instead of having the entire event at a centralized location.
"There's always a lot riding on the regular season, but it's even added this season because of the conference tournament format," Bartow said. "We just have to go in and play well. We've been defending a tad better, still not rebounding well. We just have to go in there and played a really, really good game."
After today's game, the Bucs travel south to Macon, Ga., to take on Mercer on Monday night.