Lester Wilson still has the prettiest jumper in the gym, but the shots have gotten increasingly difficult to dial in.
Consequently, you don’t see Wilson shooting nearly as often this season. East Tennessee State’s sophomore wing has seen his playing time drop along with his shooting percentage.
Coach Murry Bartow said Friday that he’s still trying to pump up Wilson’s spirits, and would like to do the same for his minutes.
“I want to give him more minutes, but he’s making it tough for me,” said Bartow. “There’s some things he’s not doing, at both ends of the court. It’s more defense than offense, and he’s not rebounding very well. The shots haven’t been falling.
“If he’d just meet me halfway on some things … I’d like to have him out there more. Even though he’s off to a tough start, for us to finish the way we want to finish, he’s an important guy.”
Wilson’s struggles began the last month of last season. He scored in double figures only twice in the final eight games but still finished with a 13.0 average in his first season of college basketball, which was second on the team.
Wilson, who had redshirted his first season after coming in from Knox Carter High School, used the tough times as motivation in the offseason.
“It’s just frustrating right now for the simple fact that I put in so much work over the summer and it’s not showing,” he said. “And now I’m at that same mental block as late last year. Instead of just shooting, I’m thinking about it. That has a way of carrying over.”
Wilson has made only three starts — he had 27 last season for a bad team — and is averaging 7.9 points and 2.4 rebounds in 18.2 minutes a game. He’s shooting 35 percent from the field and 27 percent from behind the 3-point arc.
And yet, every time he rises up from the perimeter, the textbook form suggests the shot is going to hit its mark.
“It’s no secret — everyone knows I can shoot,” said Wilson. “People still respect my shot when I’m out there. I’m still making some key baskets for us. I’m just not the deadly shooter I should be, nowhere near where I was early last season. I feel like I’m letting the team down.”
The Bucs find themselves at 8-8 as they head into today’s home game against Northern Kentucky. They’re coming off an 82-80 loss to Lipscomb on Thursday night that sent most everybody home frustrated.
After trailing virtually the whole way, the Bucs tied the game on a layup by Jalen Riley with 34 seconds left. The Bison were able to dribble away the clock, and J.C. Hampton cut off a screen and pulled up for a short jumper to win it with three seconds left.
“Any loss is tough,” said Bartow, “but that one was an emotional rollercoaster. It looked like it was going our way at the end, and we couldn’t get a stop. When you lose a game like that, you’re up all night: Did you have the right guys in the game? Should you have been in man? Or zone? You run back through it a hundred times.
“We just didn’t handle the ball screen correctly, and you have to give their guy credit. He made a really good play.”
The loss snapped a six-game win streak at home for ETSU, which fell to 1-2 in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Lipscomb pocketed its first conference win in five tries, mostly on the strength of big scoring nights by Josh Williams and Martin Smith.
Williams, a 6-4 freshman, poured in 34 points — 25 in the second half. Smith made six 3-pointers in the first half and finished with 21.
For the Bucs, junior guard Rashawn Rembert led the way with 24 points, but he managed only three in the last nine minutes.
Bartow essentially played a seven-man rotation the whole way. Again, it didn’t include Isaac Banks. The promising 6-7 freshman from New Orleans has played only 15 minutes total in the four games since raising a few eyebrows with his 12-point, nine-rebound showing against Tusculum on Dec. 16.
Banks has made 10 of his 15 shots this season and has four blocks, but he’s averaging less than seven minutes a game.
“I think you’re going to see more of him as we move forward,” said Bartow. “Last night seven guys played the majority of the game, and I think it was our best seven guys. Of course, when you lose the game, you have to wonder about other options.”
Another man who figured to help bolster the frontcourt, Ron Giplaye, has also been missing in action. The 6-6, 250-pound junior hasn’t played at all in the last four games.
Bartow said that was based on practice performances. “He’s just not in the rotation,” he said.
Notes: Northern Kentucky comes to town today with a 7-10 record but is 3-2 in the conference. The Norse, in just their second season of Division I basketball, defeated Stetson, Jacksonville and North Florida in consecutive games before losing Thursday night at USC Upstate, 73-64.
“They’re a well-coached team, and they beat us in here last year,” said Bartow. “They have some good players.”
Junior guard Jordan Jackson leads the Norse in scoring, at 14.7, and sophomore guard Tyler White (10.7) is also in double figures. They combined for half of the team’s 64 points at Upstate.