The East Tennessee State basketball team has turned up its full-court pressure and the results have been positive.
In their last two games, victories over Appalachian State and Troy, the Bucs have forced 46 turnovers, many thanks to the press. They’ll try to stretch their winning streak to three tonight with a non-conference game at Charlotte.
“We feel personnel-wise the press works for us,” ETSU coach Murry Bartow said Monday. “We’ve got a lot of juniors and seniors who have been here. We feel good going back into the zone out of the press.”
Sheldon Cooley has thrived in the press, getting 14 steals through three games.
Bartow said the press seems to work better at home, so he’s not sure how much he’ll make the call tonight at Halton Arena.
“We’ve done it much more the last two games than we did at Virginia Tech,” Bartow said. “I think normally when you press, it’s probably statistically more effective at home. You’re more comfortable. The crowd is behind you. The other team’s not gonna shoot as good in your building. There are a lot of factors.
“In terms of what we’ll do (today), we’re kind of debating it.”
No matter what happens tonight, the press is here to stay, and assistant coach Scott Wagers is the coordinator of the mayhem.
“We have some experience returning,” said Wagers, who used the strategy as head coach of an ultra-high scoring high school team in Tampa, Fla. “Most of the guys know what we were doing.”
So far, junior-college transfer Marcus Dubose is the only newcomer earning significant minutes, and he’s fitting right in defensively, Wagers says.
“It was just a matter of getting Marcus used to it,” Wagers said. “He’s got the natural instinct. He just fit right into it.”
In the past, the Bucs used the press in certain situations, such as after free throws and other dead balls. This year, they’ve used it a lot after they scored a field goal.
“It’s fun to watch it evolve,” Wagers said. “With Tommy Hubbard and Sheldon and Isiah Brown, those are the kind of guys you want to press with. They’re quick, fast and tough.
“I see a togetherness with this team. That is a crucial ingredient to pressing.”
Charlotte is coming off its first loss of the season, a 72-54 setback at Lamar. The 49ers’ leading scorer, 6-foot-8 Chris Braswell, didn’t make the trip for that game because of an illness. Braswell, who averages 20.5 and 11.0 rebounds a game, will be back in the lineup tonight.
“He’s a major concern,” Bartow said. “He’s big and thick. And they’ve got two or three guys who can really shoot the ball. They’re very athletic and they have A-10 caliber players. We have to play well, but if we play well, hopefully we have a shot.”
The Bucs have four players averaging in double figures. Dubose leads the way at 15.0 points a game, including 27 against Troy. Hubbard averages 12.7, while Adam Sollazzo is at 11.7 and Brown is at 11.0
Bartow has seemingly settled on an eight-man rotation, and none of the Bucs’ freshmen have worked their way in so far. He also said he’s still considering red-shirting Lester Wilson of Knoxville.
“I like all the freshmen, but there’s a very clear line between the top eight and the rest of the team,” Bartow said. “I desperately would like to play the freshmen more to get them some experience. Whenever they get that initial experience, they’re gonna make mistakes, so you’d like to get that out of the way. They’re all good players.”
The 49ers have their top four scorers back from last year’s team that went 10-20. They counted an ugly 49-48 win over Tennessee, then ranked No. 7, among their 10.
ETSU leads the series 2-1. The teams haven’t faced each other since 1991.