East Tennessee State played some of its best basketball of the season against Appalachian State here about a month ago. Maybe it can happen again today in Boone, N.C.
The Bucs head to the Holmes Center riding a four-game losing streak and looking for a spark. Today’s 2 o’clock game wraps up six straight on the road.
“We’re not playing great basketball,” ETSU forward Tommy Hubbard said Friday after practice in the Dome. “It’s mostly been little things that are manageable. They’re things we can fix.
“I think it’s been a test of character for our basketball team, and hopefully we can look back on this as just a bump in the road.”
Hubbard scored 23 points and the Bucs (3-5) exerted great defensive pressure on the Mountaineers (4-4) in the first matchup on Nov. 15. They raced out to a 23-4 lead at the start and ended up forcing 29 turnovers in a 64-53 victory.
The Bucs followed with wins over Troy and Charlotte before trouble set in. They have had to play catch-up almost the whole way in losses at Troy, Stetson, Florida Gulf Coast and Tennessee Tech.
“The real message today is don’t panic about the record,” said coach Murry Bartow. “Last year we were 4-7 after 11 games, and we ended up with 24 wins. The thing that bothers me now is we’re just not executing very well; our offensive execution has really been hurting us.
“The effort has been good, but I don’t think we’re as tough as we need to be.”
Bartow would surely take a repeat performance of the first matchup with the Mountaineers, who have lost five in a row in the old rivalry.
“We got off to a great start in that game,” he said. “They had 20 turnovers at the half and we had 48 points. But I think they’re a better team now than they were then.”
The Mountaineers won three of their next four games after leaving the Dome, but they have lost at Georgia Southern and Minnesota in the last week. One of their victories was at Tennessee Tech, where the Bucs were beaten 83-74 on Wednesday night.
Omar Carter (13.6 ppg) and Jamaal Trice (12.9) are the only App State players averaging in double figures. Trice led the team with 18 points, including four 3-pointers, in the first meeting with ETSU, while Carter scored 14 and Isaac Butts had 10 points and 11 rebounds.
The Bucs are led in scoring by Marcus Dubose, at 13.8 ppg., but the junior guard has struggled during this losing streak. He’s 10 of 49 from 3-point range and has a team-high 25 turnovers.
Also scoring in double figures for ETSU is Isiah Brown (12.0), Adam Sollazzo (11.3) and Hubbard (11.1). Brown is the team’s top rebounder, at 6.9 per game.
After today, the Bucs won’t play again until Milligan visits the Dome on Dec. 19. Then it’s back to the road for games at Tennessee and Clemson before Atlantic Sun Conference play resumes.
“We’re in a brutal stretch right now, and we knew it would be tough going into it,” said Bartow. “The last four games, we just haven’t gotten it done. Things snowball and you just don’t look very good.”