East Tennessee State didn’t match up well with the team at the top of the Atlantic Sun Conference basketball standings.
Now it has to bounce back against the team at the bottom.
The Bucs host Kennesaw State today at 2 o’clock in the Dome. They’ve beaten the beleaguered Owls 16 straight times, but coach Murry Bartow still saw reason for concern after a 90-77 loss to Mercer on Friday night.
“It’s a dangerous game,” said Bartow. “When you’re coming off a game like this, that the players are hyped up for and you lose, it’s a real concern. All of a sudden, one loss can turn into two.
“If our minds are not clear, we’ll get our tails kicked.”
The Owls, with three wins in their last 46 conference games, haven’t been in the tail-kicking business for awhile. They certainly won’t present the kind of problems a deep, senior-laden Mercer team did.
Bud Thomas poured in 28 points with eight 3-pointers, the Bears shot 55 percent from the field and dominated the boards to beat the Bucs for the fifth straight time. They had prevailed 73-63 in Macon, Ga., three weeks earlier at the start of what is now an eight-game winning streak.
“They’re a good team, and the matchups they use are just tough against us,” said sophomore guard Lester Wilson, whose 14 points Friday night marked his second-highest total of the season.
The loss dropped ETSU (11-11, 4-5) to fifth in the A-Sun standings and ended any thoughts of challenging for a regular-season championship. Mercer is 9-1 and has at least a three-game lead over everyone but Florida Gulf Coast, which is 8-2.
About all the Bucs can do now is try to regain some momentum as the schedule heads into February. They had won two straight before the Bears came to town, and they should be able to get back on track today to end a four-game homestand.
Kennesaw State (4-19, 1-9) has lost six in a row since its lone conference victory over USC Upstate. The average loss in that stretch is 15 points.
Third-year coach Lewis Preston, who played for VMI back in the early 1990s, hasn’t been able to turn the ship around. His overall record so far: 10-74.
The Owls are averaging just 63.3 points a game this season and have one double-figure scorer, junior guard Delbert Love (10.5). They’re 1-12 on the road.
All in all, today’s matchup shapes up as an easy bounce-back for the Bucs early on Super Bowl Sunday.
They defeated the Owls 71-55 to open their conference schedule on Jan. 4, with Rashawn Rembert and A.J. Merriweather scoring 19 points apiece. It was Bartow’s 300th career victory.
Rembert, the junior guard, said the Bucs can’t afford to go into the rematch with a hangover from the Mercer loss.
“We can’t have our heads down for this game,” said Rembert. “We’ve gotta be ready.”