Marcus Dubose is still playing with pain, but you wouldn’t have known it Saturday.
The junior guard sliced and diced his way to a game-high 27 points to lead East Tennessee State to an 81-71 victory over Troy.
Dubose, who broke a rib in the team’s first exhibition three weeks ago, scored seven of his points in the first three minutes. The Bucs led 9-0 and were never slowed for long in a game with playground pace.
It was 48-36 at the half, and Dubose had 21.
“The rib is still sore, but the team needs me to play, so I play hard,” he said. “I felt like I was in rhythm.”
The junior-college transfer came to ETSU with a reputation as a big scorer after averaging over 23 points a game last season at Mendocino Community College in California. He had 30 in that first exhibition but had been fairly quiet since.
Dubose ended up taking 26 shots against the Trojans and making 12, including three from long range.
“He’s been limited a lot,” said ETSU coach Murry Bartow. “He has the fractured rib and has not been able to practice at full speed. It hurts when he plays, but he can score, and he does it efficiently.
“We need him to score. That’s why we recruited him.”
The Bucs are now 2-1 as they head into a six-game road swing beginning Tuesday night at North Carolina Charlotte. They’ll see the Trojans (1-2) again in Alabama on Nov. 29.
They likely won’t see many other teams this season with Troy’s personality. The Trojans of the Sun Belt Conference had put up 60 3-pointers in their first two games, and they launched 33 against the Bucs, making 11.
“We knew they have a high-octane offense and can score in bunches,” said ETSU forward Tommy Hubbard, who finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds. “We’re a really good defensive team, and I think we did a good job holding them in check.”
The final score didn’t reflect the lopsided nature of the contest. The Bucs led 75-50 with eight minutes left before the Trojans frantically shot their way back into it.
A three-point play by Nic Combs made it 77-64 with 5:19 left. The Bucs snuffed out the rally with baskets by Adam Sollazzo and Lukas Poderis and were able to get by despite the Trojans finishing on a 10-0 run.
Sollazzo, the senior point guard, flourished in the open court and dished out 11 assists, one off his career high. Jarvis Jones hit four 3-pointers and scored 14 points for the Bucs, while Isiah Brown had 11.
ETSU shot 55 percent from the floor in the first half and finished at 48 percent. It had a little more trouble at the foul line, making 5 of 12.
Troy was led by R.J. Scott’s 15 points; he made four 3-pointers. Combs, with 10 points, was the only other Trojan to score in double figures.
The visitors shot 36 percent from the field and surely missed starting point guard Will Weathers, who sat out with an injury.
“I thought we defended really hard, with a lot of pressure,” said Bartow. “Troy is an explosive team, and it didn’t help them that Weathers was out. He’s an all-league point guard.”
For the third straight game, the Bucs got off to a quick start.
They led by eight early at Virginia Tech but couldn’t hold it, falling 64-53 in the season opener. Against Appalachian State, an 81-68 victory, they bolted to a 23-4 lead. The Mountaineers battled back to get as close as seven down the stretch.
“It’s important to get into the game quick, get the energy going and kind of deflate the opponent,” said Bartow. “I am concerned about the second halves.”
The coach now turns his attention to life on the road, starting with the game at Charlotte. Also included in the stretch are rematches against Troy and App State, Atlantic Sun Conference games at Stetson and Florida Gulf Coast, and a trip to Tennessee Tech.
“We don’t look at any of them as games we can’t win,” said Bartow, “but they’ll all be tough to win. Anytime you go on the road, it’s tough to win.”
The Bucs won’t play again at home until Milligan College visits on Dec. 19.