BOONE, N.C. — Adam Sollazzo made sure an outstanding half of basketball didn’t go to waste Saturday in the Holmes Center.
East Tennessee State’s senior guard carried his team down the stretch, scoring its last 14 points on his way to a career-high 23, as the Bucs beat Appalachian State 65-48 to complete a season sweep.
The Mountaineers had sliced a 19-point halftime deficit to 11 when Sollazzo went to work in the last eight minutes.
“I think someone said in the huddle that we hadn’t scored in about five minutes, and I thought it was time that I started getting to the rim,” he said. “Fortunately I got some shots to fall and made some free throws.
“We came out with a whole new offensive approach today, and it really helped us. We played together.”
The victory snapped a four-game losing streak for the Bucs, who have now beaten the Mountaineers six in a row. They had won 81-68 last month in Johnson City in similarly lopsided fashion.
Both teams now have 4-5 records.
Sollazzo made 8 of 15 shots, grabbed nine rebounds and handed out five assists. He took control after the Mountaineers made their run.
“Adam is really good late in games,” said ETSU coach Murry Bartow. “He makes free throws late in games, and he likes the ball in his hands late in games.”
The 6-6 point guard made his last six free throws in what was otherwise a pitiful exercise for the team. The Bucs went 15 of 31 at the foul line but still had more makes than the Mountaineers had attempts (13).
While Sollazzo was the catalyst late, eclipsing his previous scoring high of 22 points, it was an inspired effort by senior forward Isiah Brown that helped the Bucs build an early lead. The Mountaineers were again befuddled by the ETSU press and zone defense and quickly fell behind by double figures.
Brown scored 11 of his 16 points in the half.
“We just came out with incredible energy,” he said. “We really played well together. We were way more patient with the ball and didn’t hurry our offense. Defensively we caused them a lot of problems.”
The Bucs shot 56 percent from the field in the half and dominated the paint 26-4. They committed just three turnovers.
App State coach Jason Capel had to think back to the first game with the Bucs, when his team fell behind 23-4 and turned the ball over 20 times in the first half alone.
“I have to give them credit, because their zone has caused us problems twice,” said Capel. “They were a team searching for an identity today, coming off some bad losses, and we gave them confidence early. It was mostly just energy and effort.”
The Mountaineers used that combination, along with ETSU’s poor foul shooting, to at least keep the game from turning into a blowout. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Rodney Milum made it 51-40 with 8:18 remaining, but that was as close as it would get.
Down the stretch, the ball stayed in Sollazzo’s hands, and he cashed in.
“There were a lot of good things,” said Bartow. “Isiah had a lot of energy early. Adam was really good late. Scott (Wagers) had put in a new wrinkle with our zones, and I thought that was effective. We finished with just seven turnovers, which was our best of the season.
“We really restructured our offense in the last 24 hours. Guys had too much freedom before and were taking a lot of bad shots. We got that situation more under control today.”
One indication: Marcus Dubose, the team’s leading scorer on the season, played 24 minutes and scored five points. Another: as a team, the Bucs attempted just three 3-pointers.
Sollazzo and Brown were the only Bucs to hit double figures, though Lukas Poderis and Jarvis Jones each had eight in solid outings. Poderis made all three of his shots and had four rebounds in 14 minutes off the bench.
Brown grabbed eight rebounds as ETSU held a 32-30 edge.
As for the free-throw woes, he could only shake his head after going 4 of 11. He came in as a 53 percent foul shooter, and the team was at 61 percent.
“I made 8 of 10 in the last game,” said Brown. “It’s just a rhythm thing, and I didn’t get into a rhythm today. Both teams struggled.”
App State, in fact, was 6 of 13 — the disparity at the line wasn’t lost on the home fans — and shot 42 percent from the field. They were led in scoring by Milum and Jamaal Trice, with 12 points apiece.
Omar Carter had a very quiet afternoon. The Southern Conference preseason player of the year went 1 of 5 from the field and scored four points. He also had four of the Mountaineers’ 18 turnovers.
With a six-game road trip finally complete, the Bucs have nine days before hosting Milligan on Dec. 19. That will be their first home game in a month.