Like most of the principles, Chattanooga’s first-year head coach Will Wade was new to the old, often acrimonious basketball rivalry with East Tennessee State.
It didn’t take him long to get into the spirit of things Tuesday night in the Dome.
By the time the Bucs had pulled out a 79-66 victory in the first round of the Collegeinsider.com Postseason Tournament, Wade was convinced that it will be easy to rekindle the smoldering series once both teams are competing in the Southern Conference again next season.
“Based on the way the fans were yelling at me tonight, I think so,” said Wade, an assistant at VCU the last four years who replaced Johnson City native John Shulman. “The reason it’s a rivalry is that both teams have been good and the games have meant a lot. And both teams are poised to be good in the Southern Conference again.
“It’s up to us to continue to get better, and to East Tennessee State to continue to get better.”
The Mocs (18-15) finished second to Davidson in the SoCon during the regular season before falling to Georgia Southern in the tournament semifinals. The Bucs (19-15) tied for fourth place in the Atlantic Sun, and also lost in their conference semifinals, to Florida Gulf Coast.
After a 12-day layoff, they started playing again. ETSU coach Murry Bartow said the CIT game felt like something between an extension of the regular season and a fresh start.
“It’s a little bit of an extension, and a new day, a new opportunity,” he said, adding that he’d rather be getting ready for NCAA tournament play. “Anytime you can compete for a trophy, that’s a neat thing. We started with 32 and will be down to 16. I’m glad we got this first one.”
The Bucs, who made it to the semifinals of the CIT two years ago, could host a second-round game on Friday or Saturday night. The other half of the field is set to play their openers tonight.
The matchup with the Mocs was the first between the teams since 2009, and drew almost 3,000 fans. Several were wearing “Beat Chatt” t-shirts, with a Southern Conference logo displayed prominently on the front.
The Bucs warmed up wearing the shirts and quickly sensed the mood of the crowd.
“We could feel the intensity,” said junior guard Rashawn Rembert. “Coach always talks about matching the other team’s intensity, and I think we did that tonight.”
Rembert, battling for a scoring title in the A-Sun with Torrey Craig of USC Upstate, finished with 17 points, right at his season average. Craig and the Spartans will play a CIT game tonight at home against Towson.
Jalen Riley led the Bucs with 23 points, including 15 in the second half as they pulled away with 46 points. The Mocs tried to control tempo, putting the brakes on their offense at every opportunity until they got too far behind.
A 10-point run had pulled them to within three, at 54-51, with nine minutes left. But the Bucs responded with six quick points, and the teams mostly traded baskets the rest of the way.
That sent the crowd home happy. It had been given a glimpse of its team’s future, with some poignant reminders of its past.
Four of the most recognizable combatants in memorable skirmishes with the Mocs were brought on to the floor to be recognized at halftime – Mister Jennings, Marty Story, Calvin Talford and Dimeco Childress.
Story, wearing one of those “Beat Chatt” shirts, wore a broad smile as he filed out the door at the finish.
“That brought back memories, a lot of memories,” he said. “It gave me the feeling of wanting to lace up again.”
Like most everyone else, Story thinks the teams getting together at least twice a year from now on is something to be savored.
“Even though the players don’t know much about the history, because they’ve been in a different conference for several years, you could tell the fans do,” he said. “Johnson City is anxious for this rivalry to continue.”comments powered by Disqus