As tuneups go, East Tennessee State got about what it expected out of Monday night’s matchup with Milligan College.
The Bucs rolled out to a 25-4 lead and never looked back in an 83-43 victory in the Dome. Now it’s on to Knoxville for a game with Tennessee on Friday night.
“It’s a big game, and I know our guys are excited about it,” said coach Murry Bartow. “We’ve got a couple of good road wins, beating Charlotte and beating App State. They’ve struggled some, but it’s going to be a very tough game.”
Not much was tough Monday night as the Bucs evened their record at 5-5 in their first home appearance in a month.
They held the Buffs (4-7) to 31 percent shooting and 17 points in the first half, and they dominated the boards 54-32. It was the second straight game they’ve kept their opponent under 50 points, coming on the heels of a 65-48 victory at Appalachian State nine days earlier.
Perhaps the best thing the Bucs did offensively was get Marcus Dubose back in a good frame of mind.
The junior guard, bothered all season by a rib injury, had struggled with his shot the last several games. He got some open looks early against the Buffs and responded with a game-high 20 points.
Dubose was 7 of 13 from the field, including four 3-pointers.
“It’s been a struggle,” he said. “That type of injury, you can’t put a cast on it. You just go out and play through it. The eight days (between games) helped a lot.”
Getting Dubose back in a groove is “very critical for our team,” said Bartow. “I thought he really looked comfortable tonight, which is encouraging.”
Adam Sollazzo had another solid outing for the Bucs. Presenting all sorts of matchup problems at point guard, the 6-6 senior collected 18 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
Sollazzo had a career-high 23 points in the win at App State, which closed a six-game stretch on the road.
“It was great to be back ? it feels like we haven’t been here in months,” he said. “Right now we’re just trying to fine-tune everything before heading down to UT. We’ll take any win we can get.”
Jarvis Jones, with 13 points, was the only other Buc to score in double figures.
It was a productive night for Lukas Poderis, who had eight points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots in 19 minutes off the bench. Isiah Brown blocked four shots, while Tommy Hubbard grabbed 11 rebounds.
The mismatch certainly came as no surprise to Milligan coach Bill Robinson. His team has played five games now against Division I competition, in hopes they will enhance its championship possibilities in the Appalachian Athletic Conference.
“You try not to look at the score,” said Robinson. “It’s easier when the scoreboard is harder to see; you gotta look for it here.”
The Buffs have lost to the Bucs the last four years by an average of 40 points per game. Robinson likes the makeup of this ETSU team.
“I think this team is much more mature; they’ve got the pieces now,” he said. “Mike Smith is hard to replace, but Dubose shoots the ball so well. And Sollazzo is the ultimate leader on the floor. At that size, he does so many things well, and he has a confidence about him.”
Robinson didn’t see too many stretches of play from his team that were encouraging.
The Milligan starters went 6 of 29 from the field and combined for 14 points. Tyler Vault provided that many himself off the bench; no other Milligan player scored more than six.
Notes: Junior forward J.C. Ward injured his foot after playing just three minutes for the Bucs and is questionable for the Tennessee game.
“He’s not in the shape he needs to be in,” said Bartow. “For J.C. to be good, he’s gotta have his motor. Without his motor, he’s an average undersized post player. We think he’s a real key guy for us.”
The ETSU bench was already thin Monday night. Freshmen John Walton and Ryan Woumn were sick and didn’t dress out. Neither did Lester Wilson, who for the first time this season was wearing sweats on the bench. The freshman from Knoxville is headed for a redshirt.