The East Tennessee State basketball team’s opening act didn’t play well on the road, at least not well enough to win.
Coach Murry Bartow still saw positive signs in the 64-53 loss Saturday at Virginia Tech.
“We honestly did a lot of good things if you look at the big picture,” Bartow said Monday. “We go on the road to an ACC school and were in a position to win at the end. The defense and rebounding were pretty good. We just weren’t efficient enough on offense.”
Indeed, 29 percent shooting from the field, including 2 of 17 from 3-point range, wasn’t going to beat the Hokies, who shot just 39 percent themselves. Missing nine free throws didn’t help either.
The Bucs did make it close at the end, pulling within four after a stickback by Lukas Poderis with 1:51 left. The Hokies iced it with nine free throws down the stretch.
Poderis, who was 3 of 6 from the field, was the only ETSU player to make at least half his shots. Adam Sollazzo (5 of 14) led the Bucs with 13 points, and Sheldon Cooley (5 of 16) and Isiah Brown (2 of 8) finished with 10 apiece.
Tommy Hubbard was 0 of 5 and scored two points in 35 minutes.
“Our starters were 12 of 44 combined,” said Bartow. “Thirty-two of those shots were within 10 feet of the rim. Some of that was who we were playing against — an ACC team with big, thick bodies. But when you get in there, you have to convert or get to the line. A lot of times we just threw it up.”
The Bucs will look for better production tonight when they take on Appalachian State in the home opener. Tipoff is 7 o’clock.
The teams are, of course, old rivals. Their series dates back to 1928, with ETSU holding a 74-46 advantage after four straight victories. They’ll meet again in Boone on Dec. 10.
Oddly enough, the last matchup came in Cancun, Mexico last December. The Bucs rolled 79-51 in the Cancun Governors Cup the day before Christmas behind Mike Smith’s 20 points and career-high 16 rebounds.
Smith is long gone, along with several others from those teams, and Bartow doesn’t put much stock in the results now.
“The day we caught them, they were not playing real well and we were,” he said. “They were a different team at the end. They finished on a good roll, and a lot of those guys are back.”
The Mountaineers were picked second, behind Chattanooga, in the North Division of the Southern Conference. They routed Lees-McRae 90-61 in their opener last Friday night.
Andre Williamson led the way with 16 points and 11 rebounds, while Omar Carter added 15 and eight, respectively.
Williamson is a 6-7, 240-pound senior forward, and Carter is a 6-5, 215-pound senior guard who was named SoCon preseason player of the year. The Mountaineers also saw the return of Isaac Butts, the 6-10, 290-pound giant who redshirted last season with a knee injury.
Throw in Nathan Healy (6-7, 220) and Petey Hausley (6-6, 240) and coach Jason Capel has a variety of muscle to throw at the Bucs.
“They have a lot of size,” said Bartow, “and Carter is a heckuva player. He’s one of the best players in that league — 6-5, strong and just hard to deal with.
“Defensively they’re better than a year ago, and they can shoot it. One exhibition game they made 14 threes in a half. That’s cause for concern.”
Bartow is still experimenting with his roster — when to go big or small, how to mix zone and man, how much to press. The Bucs played almost strictly zone against the Hokies.
“We had some holes in the zone, but it was pretty good to us,” he said. “I think we’re a good man-to-man team, too. I’m not sure what we’ll do tomorrow.”
The coach isn’t sure who he’ll start either.
He credited Poderis, the junior forward, for being a “bright spot” off the bench against Virginia Tech. J.C. Ward drew the starting assignment at power forward.
Marcus Dubose will also be hard to keep out of the starting lineup for long. The junior guard looked rusty Saturday after not practicing for two weeks with a rib injury, but he also showed an explosiveness off the dribble.
“We’re still toying with things,” said Bartow. “We may go with the same starting five. The other guys on my mind are Marcus and Lukas.”
Another mystery waiting to be revealed: ETSU will unveil its new mascot at halftime, now that Bucky has officially retired from game duty.