East Tennessee State basketball coach Murry Bartow liked the way his team finished a six-game road stretch last weekend at Appalachian State.
He hopes a break for final exams hasn’t slowed the momentum.
The Bucs play their first home game in a month tonight when Milligan College visits the Dome. Tipoff is 7 o’clock.
“With finals, it’s always a hard time for the players,” Bartow said Sunday. “The concentration level is different because they’re trying to finish the semester well, which is understandable. With that behind us, I think everybody is ready to get back to basketball and win some more games.”
The Bucs (4-5) haven’t played at home since defeating Troy 81-71 on Nov. 19. They went 2-4 on the road, bookending wins at Charlotte and App State around four straight losses.
Bartow and his staff retooled their approach at both ends of the court before heading to Boone, N.C., last Saturday, and it paid in an impressive 65-48 win.
The Bucs raced out to a 19-point halftime lead, and Adam Sollazzo carried them down the stretch, scoring their last 14 points. The senior point guard finished with a careerhigh 23.
“That was a good win for us, and we needed it,” said Bartow. “We changed some things to redirect the team. We defended well, jumped out quick, won by 17 and did it on the road.”
The most noticeable adjustment against the Mountaineers, a team the Bucs had already beaten earlier in the season, was reining in the offense. Better ball movement resulted in better shots -- a matter of patience and execution.
The Bucs shot 56 percent in the first half and for the game committed only seven turnovers, a season low.
“We just needed more control,” said Bartow. “I’ve always liked to give players the freedom to make decisions. But the bottom line with this team is we need to be a little more set-oriented, put in a little more structure and limit the gray area.
“We’ve even tweaked what we were doing a little more in practice this week.”
Most of what the Bucs do tonight should be pretty effective. The Buffs (4-6) will be outmanned at every position, as usual whenever they come to the Dome.
The teams have played the last three years, with ETSU winning by an average of 41 points. Last year it was 103-55.
“We’re not going to be looking at the final score to judge success,” said Milligan coach Bill Robinson. “We’re looking for moral victories, little things. Obviously we’re not going to win a game like this, but hopefully we’ll have four- and fiveminute stretches that are pretty good.”
The Buffs, members of NAIA Division II, have seen this level of competition a few times this season. They’ve already played East Carolina, Charleston Southern, Appalachian State and VMI.
There isn’t a whole lot of scouting to be done for any of the Division I opponents.
“It doesn’t matter a whole lot,” said Robinson, whose team has lost its last four games but is off to a 2-0 start in the Appalachian Athletic Conference. “We’ll still do a scouting report on ETSU and know what their tendencies are, but we’re more focused on what we’re trying to accomplish.
“We’ve been very good in stretches and very bad in stretches. That’s a sign of an immature team. Hopefully we can figure some of that stuff out over the Christmas break.”
Tonight’s game will serve as a tuneup for the Bucs, who head back out on the road for a game at Tennessee on Wednesday night. They’ll open the new year at Clemson on Jan. 1.
“We have 13 games at home, and our goal is to win all of them,” said Bartow. “Milligan is our next one.”
ETSU has four players scoring in double figures, led by junior guard Marcus Dubose at 12.8. The junior-college transfer got off to a fast start, with games of 27 and 26 points, but he hasn’t scored more than 12 in his last five games.
Dubose says he’s just now feeling good again after breaking a rib in the team’s first exhibition game.
“I’m back 100 percent healthy now,” he said. “I just need to get consistent again, play like I normally play.”
Sollazzo (12.6), Isiah Brown (12.4) and Tommy Hubbard (10.2) are also scoring in double figures for ETSU. Brown leads the team in rebounding (7.0), while Sollazzo is handing out 4.7 assists per game.
The Buffs are led in scoring by sophomore point guard Kyle Grisby (14.0). Tyler DeVault averages 9.6 and Jordan Cross 9.2
Marshall Hardy is the leading rebounder, at 5.8.