FT. MYERS, Fla. — The East Tennessee State basketball team dug itself quite a hole on its first trip to Florida this season.
In what has become a familiar pattern, the Bucs fell behind early Saturday night at Florida Gulf Coast and were beaten 72-63.
While the Eagles celebrated a win in their Atlantic Sun Conference opener — just their second in the eight-game series — the Bucs left town at 0-2 in the league. They were knocked off two nights earlier at Stetson.
Both Florida teams are rebuilding under new coaches and weren’t burdened by high expectations. Stetson was picked last in the preseason polls, while Gulf Coast was eighth.
ETSU, picked second, now has plenty of work ahead to get into contention as it finishes a six-game road trip with non-conference matchups next week at Tennessee Tech and Appalachian State. It won’t play another A-Sun game for a month, when South Carolina Upstate visits the Dome on Jan. 4.
The Bucs (3-4) were obviously a frustrated team as they walked off the floor at Alico Arena. Coach Murry Bartow kept the players in their lockerroom for about 45 minutes afterward.
“I’m not panicking about our team,” Bartow said after finally emerging. “We obviously have some things to correct, and once we get those corrected we’re going to win a lot of games.
“I still think we have a chance to have a really good team.”
The Bucs have been playing catch-up a lot lately. During their three-game losing streak, they have led for a total of about five minutes.
Adam Sollazzo stuffed the stat sheet in his final college game on the Gulf Coast, near his home in Tampa. The senior guard collected 17 points, seven rebounds, six assists and three steals.
Oddly, he found himself cast as the villain after several scrapes with FGCU players and was booed roundly whenever he touched the ball late in the game.
Still, Sollazzo helped carry the Bucs back after they trailed by 53-43 with 10 minutes left. His stickback with 5:18 left made it a 59-57 game.
Marcus Dubose again cut the lead to two with a pair of free throws a minute later, but Sherwood Brown answered with a 3-pointer that seemed to rejuvenate the Eagles.
Brown finished with 20 points to lead all scorers; he was 4 of 5 from 3-point range.
The Bucs got within three twice down the stretch, but never had a shot to tie. The Eagles scored the last six points in the final minute.
Tommy Hubbard came up big for the Bucs in the second half and finished with15 points and 11 rebounds. They held a commanding 40-28 edge on the boards -- the first time all season that Gulf Coast has been outrebounded.
Dubose chipped in with 12 points for the Bucs, who shot just 34 percent from the field.
The Eagles (3-5) had been building toward a victory. They had lost their last four games, all on the road against solid competition, by close margins.
“We’ve been in a lot of close games,” said Andy Enfield, their first-year head coach. “Tonight we made plays on defense down the stretch. I thought we took care of the ball and showed some maturity. We finished the game strong.”
The Eagles shot 54 percent from the field and spread the points around. Chase Fieler, with 12 points, was the only player other than Brown to score in double figures.
Brett Comer dished out 10 assists for the winners.