Christmas would have been a bit merrier with a win in Knoxville. Now the East Tennessee State basketball team is hoping to settle for a Happy New Year.
The Bucs, fresh off their close call at Tennessee, play a non-conference game at Clemson today in a New Year’s Day 4 p.m. matinee at Littlejohn Coliseum.
“When we play these games we feel like we can compete, we feel we have a chance to win,” ETSU coach Murry Bartow said. “It’s a money game against an ACC opponent. It’s just a hard game. Can we win it? Sure. But we’ll have to play really well.”
The Bucs competed and had a chance to win in their last outing, another “money” game, giving the Vols all they could handle before succumbing down the stretch in a 66-63 defeat.
“We did a lot of good things in that game,” Bartow said. “We were disappointed in the way it ended because we really did so many good things in the first 35 minutes. Our guys competed hard. We kept the turnovers down. We won the battle on the boards and we were up eight with five minutes to go.
“We didn’t finish the game like we would have liked to, but we took away a lot of positive things.”
It will be the eighth meeting between the schools. ETSU has never beaten the Tigers, although several of the games have been close. Their last meeting came in the 2007 NIT, a 64-57 Clemson win.
Clemson (7-6) has lost two of its last three games, including a 75-68 setback to host Hawaii in the fifth-place game at the Diamond Head Classic. It also lost to Texas-El Paso in Hawaii. In their six losses, the Tigers haven’t scored more than 68 points. UTEP held them to 48 and Arizona held them to 47.
Conversely, Clemson has held opponents in the 40s four times this season.
“They’re the best defensive team we play,” Bartow said. “They’re very, very good defensively. They’ve struggled some on the offensive end.”
Senior point guard Adam Sollazzo has assumed the ETSU scoring lead. He averages 13.6 points a game and is coming off a 19-point, seven-assist, seven-rebound effort against Tennessee.
Marcus Dubose is averaging 12.5, while Isiah Brown averages 11.4 and Tommy Hubbard averages 10.5. Brown (6.5), Hubbard (6.5) and Sollazzo (6.3) are battling for the team rebounding lead.
Dubose has started six games, but is coming off the bench these days. Juniors Sheldon Cooley and Jarvis Jones will join Sollazzo, Hubbard and Brown in the starting lineup.
Clemson is led by 5-foot-9 senior Andrew Young, who averages 12.8 points a game while shooting 92 percent from the foul line. Tanner Smith (10.8) and Devon Booker (10.2) also average in double figures.
It will be the second time Clemson coach Brad Brownell has faced Bartow, whose ETSU team beat Brownell’s UNC-Wilmington squad during the 2003-04 season.