If East Tennessee State could pick a basketball venue in the Atlantic Sun Conference to go and make a stand, the Hodge Center would not be it.
The Bucs will find themselves in USC Upstate’s little gym in Spartanburg tonight as they battle for third place to close the regular season. Tipoff is 7 o’clock, and CSS will televise.
The teams have identical 17-13, 10-7 records, but the series has been lopsided lately. The Spartans have won the last four games, by an average of 16 points.
The Bucs always seem to have trouble adjusting to the cozy confines of the Spartans’ 818-seat arena, where the home team is 10-2 this season. And this time they show up on Senior Night.
“It’s a different atmosphere and it’s not easy to go in there and win,” said ETSU coach Murry Bartow. “This has been a tough matchup for us regardless. There are certain teams in the league that we’ve beaten almost every time we’ve played in recent years, but we’ve really struggled against Upstate.
“Hopefully we can figure out a little different formula this time.”
A loss could cost the Bucs a home game in the A-Sun tournament.
North Florida upset Mercer on Thursday night and Lipscomb beat Florida Gulf Coast, creating a possibility of a three-way tie for fourth.
If ETSU loses tonight, it could still earn the 4-seed in a tiebreaker with North Florida and Lipscomb. Those two teams would have to win on Saturday to force a three-way tie.
If Lipscomb wins and North Florida loses, the Bucs fall to fifth by losing a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Bison.
The top four teams all host quarterfinals next Tuesday.
Tonight’s matchup features two of the top three scorers in the A-Sun. Upstate’s senior forward Torrey Craig leads the way at 17.2 points per game, while ETSU junior guard Rashawn Rembert is third at 16.3
Rembert just set a new school record for 3-pointers in a season in a win at North Florida last Saturday. He now has 88, which leads the league, and is shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc.
It was Craig and company, however, who dominated the first meeting between the teams this season. The all-conference performer collected 22 points and 15 rebounds in a 75-63 victory in the Dome.
The Spartans also got 18 points and 15 boards from Ricardo Glenn, their 6-8, 246-pound senior forward. They ruled the glass 53-43.
“They have a lot of size and are just a team with nice balance,” said Bartow. “Craig is long out on the wing, (Jodd) Maxie and Glenn are hard to handle inside. Ty Greene, who is back now after an injury, is a really good shooter.
“The one thing about their team, they have the ability to score and get stops. And they can really hurt you on the glass.”
If anybody on the ETSU team is looking forward to tonight’s matchup, it would be Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard. The senior forward is a native of Georgetown, S.C., and will have plenty of family and friends in the stands.
“I’ll have maybe 30 come up,” he said, “so I’ll be juiced for it. I actually like the environment there; it’s a tight gym and everybody’s close.”
Jalen Riley scored 26 points in the first game with Upstate to lead the Bucs, who shot just 30 percent from the field.
They have won three of four since that contest on Feb. 13, and eight of their last 11. Gadsden-Gilliard says there’s plenty of motivation to win tonight.
“Payback is a focus, and just playing well is a focus,” he said. “We don’t want to go into the tournament on a loss. The other thing for me and the other seniors, our careers are almost over. We only have two more guaranteed games, so we need to keep winning and keep this going.”
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