East Tennessee State basketball coach Murry Bartow is always quick to point out the difficulty of winning on the road.
His team was thoroughly convincing last week.
The Bucs couldn’t get much of anything going while stringing together losses at Troy, Stetson and Florida Gulf Coast — teams they shouldn’t be losing to. That last-second win over Charlotte to open the six-game road swing is now a distant memory.
For the next month, the Bucs will have to sit at the bottom of the A-Sun standings. They don’t play another league game until South Carolina Upstate visits on Jan. 4. In the interim are four non-conference dates on the dreaded road at Tennessee Tech, Appalachian State, Tennessee and Clemson. Yes, those will be hard to win.
It’s a familiar start for the Bucs. Just last season, they went to Upstate to open the conference schedule and were upset by the team picked to finish last, just as Stetson was this season. That ETSU team got a little better over the holidays and turned around and won its next eight A-Sun games on the way to a 16-4 finish.
Perhaps that’s why Bartow was sounding an optimistic tone after the FGCU loss Saturday night, after keeping his players in the lockerroom for 45 minutes.
“I’m not panicking about our team,” he said. “We obviously have some things to correct, and once we get those corrected we’re going to win a lot of games.”
While that remains to be seen, it’s safe to say this will not be one of Bartow’s better shooting teams, as was suggested by some in the preseason. The Bucs have made just 59 percent of their free throws so far and 28 percent of their 3-pointers. They’ve been outscored 180-64 from behind the arc.
Defensively, the Bucs are certainly better when they’re creating havoc, forcing turnovers and shooting layups, but lately that’s been happening only after they fall way behind. They’ve had a lead for only about five minutes during this losing streak.
This is a team that had question marks coming into the season, after the graduation of its top three scorers. But it’s not young and inexperienced.
Forwards Isiah Brown and Tommy Hubbard are fifth-year guys, and preseason all-conference picks. Adam Sollazzo has played a lot of minutes at point guard. All three seniors have to play well, night in and night out.
There are also two juniors in the starting lineup, and three other juniors come off the bench. That’s just about as deep as it has gone this season. Only seven players got into the game at Florida Gulf Coast.
It’s hard to play the style that suits this team best with a bench that short.
The Bucs’ outlook, of course, is rosy compared to that of the ETSU women, who are still looking for their first victory almost a month into the season.
The Lady Bucs fell to 0-8 after a pair of lopsided losses in Florida, matching the longest losing streak in program history. They’ll surpass the 1990-91 team if they don’t shed the collar tonight at Missouri State, the preseason favorite in the Missouri Valley Conference.
Next up after that: 18th-ranked North Carolina.
No one saw this level of drought coming, not with Tarita Gordon and Destiny Mitchell healthy again after undergoing knee surgery.
Gordon, the senior point guard, is the only player scoring in double figures (10.1), but she is shooting 31 percent and has twice as many turnovers as assists. Mitchell, the sophomore forward, has simply looked tentative in the early going.
The Lady Bucs are being outscored by almost 20 points a game, shooting 33 percent from the field and committing an average of 23 turnovers. They certainly don’t look like any threat to Florida Gulf Coast, which is finally eligible for postseason play and just beat them 88-60 over the weekend.
It could be a long conference season for both ETSU teams.
Kelly Hodge is managing sports editor of the Johnson City Press. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.