The schedule makers couldn’t have envisioned how badly the East Tennessee State basketball team needs a few home games right about now.
It just happened that way, and the Bucs are hoping to take advantage of a favorable scheduling quirk.
A five-game homestand might be just what ETSU needed to end its January struggles. The Bucs have lost four of their last five games to fall below .500.
“We could use some home games because we just came off a tough road trip,” ETSU forward Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard said. “There’s nothing better than playing at home with your fans behind you. They always give us great energy. We need some momentum for this late-season push.”
It all starts tonight when a revived North Florida team comes to the MSHA Center. ETSU doesn’t play on the road again until a Feb. 6 date at Northern Kentucky.
It will be only the second time the Bucs will have played five consecutive A-Sun games at home. They also did it during the 2010-11 season and went 4-1.
“The next game’s important,” ETSU coach Murry Bartow said. “I don’t look very far ahead. We’ve got five in a row, but obviously the focus is just trying to play a really good game. Hopefully we can do that.”
The Ospreys have gotten consistently better under fifth-year coach Matt Driscoll. They’re 11-9 overall and 5-2 in the A-Sun. Three of those league victories are against teams that beat ETSU —Mercer, Stetson and Lipscomb.
“They’re really different than they’ve been, much better,” Bartow said. “This is by far the most athletic team North Florida has ever had.”
Two freshmen, including leading scorer Dallas Moore, start for North Florida. Moore, the point guard, averages 12.6 points a game.
Travis Wallace, a 6-foot-6 senior, averages 12.5 and is coming off a record performance against Jacksonville in which he had 27 points and 19 rebounds. The rebound total is the most for a North Florida player since the program joined Division I.
In the Bucs’ last two games, losses at Stetson and Florida Gulf Coast, they’ve averaged 60 points, 13 below their season average.
“We got kind of stagnant on the offensive end an we kind of let that affect us on the defensive end,” Gadsden-Gilliard said. “That’s what we’ve been focusing on, getting back into the flow on offense.”
In each of the Bucs’ last four losses, they’ve shot lower than 40 percent from the field. That’s a telling statistic considering ETSU’s shooting percentage in its nine wins is 49 percent. In the 10 losses, it’s 39 percent.
“When you can’t score, it’s tough,” said guard Rashawn Rembert, who leads the Bucs in scoring at 15.3 points a game. “We’re going through a little slump right now with our team, so having these games at home is critical. We want to get the fans back into it, get them riled up or something.”
After tonight’s game, Jacksonville comes in on Saturday, followed by Mercer on January 30, Kennesaw State on Feb. 1 and USC Upstate on Feb. 3.