The personality of the Stetson basketball team has changed, which may or may not be a good thing for East Tennessee State.
Derek Waugh’s beleaguered teams always gave the Bucs fits, but winning four of the last seven games in the series wasn’t nearly enough to save the coach’s job. He exited in March after 11 seasons.
The Hatters and Bucs get together again tonight in DeLand, Fla., for their Atlantic Sun Conference opener, and the new man on the Stetson bench can’t be a comforting sight for the visitors. Casey Alexander spent the last 16 years as an assistant coach at Belmont, which has dominated the Bucs since they got into the A-Sun.
“Casey was at Belmont working for Rick Byrd for many years,” ETSU coach Murry Bartow said Wednesday. “So I’m sure that style-wise, this Stetson team will be totally different than what they have been, which was more of a grind-it-out type of team. But at this point, they’re still kind of an unknown. They’ve got new coaches, and the best two players on this team weren’t playing last year.”
Bartow and his team were en route to Orlando from Troy, Ala., where they were beaten 79-71 Tuesday night to snap their three-game winning streak.
The Bucs (3-2) will likely have to improve in several areas to subdue the Hatters (3-3) tonight, or Florida Gulf Coast on Saturday.
Foremost is foul shooting. The Bucs went 12 of 21 at the line against the Trojans, leaving them at a league-low 58.6 percent for the season.
Forward Isiah Brown, who otherwise was outstanding, with 15 rebounds, 11 points and three blocked shots, made just 3 of 11. He has now taken 33 of the team’s 111 free throws overall and is shooting 42.4 percent.
Point guard Adam Sollazzo, meanwhile, is 16 of 30 at the stripe.
“Statistically, our poor free-throw shooting has really come down to those two guys,” said Bartow. “The one thing that’s encouraging is that they get to the free-throw line a lot, and the message to them is to stay aggressive and keep getting there.
“Adam will get his percentage up. Isiah will have good nights and bad nights. Free throws are a mental thing, and if you’re not a good shooter to begin with and miss one or two early, that can mess your brain up. It’s something we’re going to fight all year.”
The Bucs aren’t shooting particularly well from the perimeter either. They’ve made 25 of 86 (29 percent) from 3-point range, and most of that is on Marcus Dubose.
The junior guard has gone 9 of 37 from behind the arc. He’s still the team’s leading scorer, at 15.4 ppg., and was named conference player of the week on Tuesday.
Dubose didn’t look the part at Troy, managing just six points on 2-of-13 shooting.
“Marcus is a work in progress,” said Bartow, “and we have to be patient with him. He’s a junior-college transfer; there will be a transition period. We think he’ll be a consistent scorer for us.”
Tommy Hubbard also had just six points for the Bucs, who trailed the freewheeling Trojans the whole way.
Sheldon Cooley led the way with 20 points, and Sollazzo added 19, including nine from long range. The senior had made only four 3-point baskets in his entire career coming into this season. Now he has eight.
“We had some guys do some good things,” said Bartow, “but to win on the road, you have to play really well. Turnovers were a problem for us again last night; we had 20. We had trouble making free throws. We didn’t defend as well.
“Those kind of things really limit your ability to win road games.”
While the Bucs were struggling at Troy, the Hatters were losing at ninth-ranked Florida 96-70 to give coach Billy Donovan his 400th career victory.
Center Adam Pegg led the Hatters with 19 points. The 6-9, 260-pound junior, who sat out last season as a transfer from Delaware, is averaging a team-high 13.7 ppg.
Stetson’s second-leading scorer, sophomore guard Chris Perez (11.7) also sat out after playing one season at Liberty. The team’s top returning player is sophomore guard Aaron Graham (10.0).
The Hatters are averaging 22 attempts per game from 3-point range, second in the league to Belmont’s 25.
The Bucs have five players scoring in double figures. Following Dubose is Brown (12.0), Hubbard (11.6), Sollazzo (11.2) and Cooley (10.6).
In sharp contrast to his work at the foul line, Brown is shooting 60 percent from the field. He also leads the team in rebounding, at 6.8.
Note: Freshman Lester Wilson has yet to see any action this season for the Bucs, and it looks like he won’t.
Bartow said Wednesday that the 6-4 swingman from Knoxville will likely redshirt. The team’s two other true freshmen, guard Rashawn Rembert and forward John Walton, have been used very sparingly so far but will remain active.
“We haven’t made a final determination on Lester, but I think he will redshirt,” said Bartow. “We’ll move forward with John and Rashawn.”
Rembert has played a total of 14 minutes in three games, while Walton has played just one minute. That’s one more minute than redshirt freshman guard Ryan Woumn.