East Tennessee State turned up the defense, and Appalachian State responded with a flood of turnovers.
Try as they might, the Mountaineers couldn’t wade out of their mess.
The Bucs built a 16-point halftime lead and made it stand up in a home-opening 81-68 victory Tuesday night. It was a 23-4 game after 13 minutes, and the Mountaineers finished the half with 20 turnovers against an active ETSU zone and full-court pressure. They shot 23 percent from the field.
That combination proved to be lethal.
“We ran our black press and were really aggressive,” said ETSU forward Tommy Hubbard. “We noticed they weren’t taking care of the ball very well. We went out and attacked right away.”
Hubbard led the way with 23 points and seven rebounds for the Bucs, who rebounded nicely from an 64-53 season-opening loss at Virginia Tech. They also got big games from guards Adam Sollazzo (16 points, five assists, six rebounds) and Sheldon Cooley (11 points, seven steals, five rebounds), while forward Isiah Brown had 12 points and six rebounds.
Hubbard, coming off a redshirt season, failed to make a field goal at Virginia Tech and scored just two points. On this night he looked more like the player ETSU fans remember from two years ago, when he led the Bucs in scoring and rebounding.
“It was a typical game,” said ETSU coach Murry Bartow. “He competes and fights and gets a lot done. I thought Adam was very good; he has a great knack for getting fouled and getting to the line. I thought Sheldon was great tonight, too. He had big numbers in a lot of categories.”
Cooley turned in the key play of the night.
The Mountaineers (1-1) had fought their way back to cut the ETSU lead to seven and had the ball with under five minutes left. As Omar Carter pushed it upcourt, Cooley came from behind and poked it away. He got the pass back off the steal and turned it into a three-point play when he double-clutched a layup and was fouled.
“That was a huge play,” said Bartow. “It could have gone from seven to four, and instead it went from seven back to 10.”
The Bucs were able to maintain a double-digit advantage the rest of the way by making 9 of 12 free throws. They hit only 14 of 25 in the half, and 24 of 39 overall.
Both teams shot 50 percent from the field in the second half.
The Mountaineers might have gotten an omen it wouldn’t be their night when they received a technical foul for dunking in pre-game warmups. Marcus Dubose went to the foul line and put the Bucs on top 2-0 before the opening tip.
App State coach Jason Capel liked the way his team fought back, but didn’t like the way it fell behind in the first place. The Mountaineers were out of control, and the results were disastrous.
The Bucs converted the 20 turnovers into 21 points in the first half and held a 26-8 edge in the paint. App State finished the night with 29 turnovers — 18 coming on steals.
“I’m disappointed the way we turned the ball over and in our toughness,” said Capel. “But it’s a journey and we get to see these guys again in a couple of weeks.”
The teams will meet again in Boone on Dec. 10, with ETSU riding a five-game win streak in the old rivalry.
The Mountaineers were led by Jamaal Trice, who scored all 18 of his points in the second half. Twelve came on 3-pointers.
They also got 14 points from Carter, the Southern Conference preseason player of the year, and 10 from Andre Williamson. Butts, the 6-10, 290-pound senior, chipped in with 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Brown, who did swat away two of Butts’ shots, sized up the big man by saying “he’s like three people, really big and physical.”
On the other side, the physicality of the 6-4, 210-pound Hubbard wasn’t overlooked.
“The Hubbard kid is one tough son of a gun,” said Capel. “We have to get that toughness.”
The Bucs will host Troy on Saturday, then embark on a six-game road trip that begins at North Carolina-Charlotte next Tuesday night.