East Tennessee State basketball coach Murry Bartow was back at work Wednesday morning, two days after laying his father to rest in Alabama.
Bartow missed Monday night’s game here against Kennesaw State but says he looks forward to getting on with the season. The Bucs hit the road to face struggling Jacksonville on Saturday, then head over to North Florida for a Monday night contest.
“I do feel a new strength over the last week or so,” said Bartow. “I even felt the way I coached the last two games, I had a calmness about me. And the players responded in such a great way.”
The Bucs (8-7) played inspired basketball against Upstate and Mercer before squeezing out a 73-69 victory over Kennesaw State in the coach’s absence. With assistant Scott Wagers at the controls, they rallied from 11 down in the second half to extend their win streak.
“It’s such a tough position to put a team in, but I’ve had incredible support from my coaches and players,” said Bartow. “Scott, Mike (Boyd) and Thomas (Johnson) have all been head coaches, and I had tremendous faith in them to lead our team. I know Scott did an excellent job under difficult circumstances the other night.”
Gene Bartow died at 81 on Jan. 3 after a two-year battle with stomach cancer. The legendary coach who succeeded John Wooden at UCLA, founded the basketball program at Alabama-Birmingham and won 647 games in his career was eulogized by his son in services Monday morning in Vestavia Hills, Ala., outside of Birmingham.
“My dad was my mentor,” said Murry Bartow as he sat back in his office Wednesday. “So many things I’ve done in my career are things he taught me.”
n Bartow was still trying to get his bearing and play catch-up before practice Wednesday. He hadn’t had much time to think about the weekend ahead, much less review the Kennesaw game.
“I haven’t watched tape of the game, but I understand our seniors really stepped up and provided leadership with the way they played and how they spoke in the locker room,” he said. “That’s so important.”
The trio of Adam Sollazzo, Tommy Hubbard and Isiah Brown combined for 45 points and 19 rebounds against the Owls. Sollazzo led the way with 20 points, and he also collected five assists and four steals.
The 6-foot-6 point guard is quickly turning into a player of the year candidate in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
Over the last seven games, Sollazzo has averaged more than 21 points and seven assists. He’s now third in the league in both categories.
“If you look at last year, Adam had some huge games,” said Bartow. “He’s always been a hard matchup, but he’s incredibly confident now. He’s become a better shooter, he can post you or go by you, and he has an incredible ability to get fouled. He’s just playing at a high level.”
n Five games into the A-Sun schedule, the Bucs find themselves in a four-way tie for fourth place, at 3-2. Belmont is on top at 4-1, with Mercer and Stetson standing at 4-2.
While relieved to have put that 0-2 start behind him, Bartow says it’s not time to pay attention to the standings yet.
“I think it’s too early,” he said. “We’re five games into an 18-game league slate, and I’m just focused on how to make our team better.
“Of course, if you look at what has happened in the league so far, Lipscomb beats Belmont at Belmont, Mercer loses by four at Belmont, Florida Gulf Coast is dramatically improved, Stetson is dramatically improved. There’s great potential for interesting things to happen in Macon in early March.”
n Like the Bucs, the ETSU women’s team has enjoyed a resurgence of late.
The Lady Bucs are 3-2 in the A-Sun and 4-11 overall after starting the season with 10 straight losses. They just completed a five-game homestand with four wins and will try to keep things going tonight at North Florida.
“We hit the road on a little win streak. A little momentum is nice,” coach Karen Kemp said Wednesday as the team bused toward Jacksonville. “We felt all along that if we could get that first one, things would turn around for us.”
Kemp believes a lot of the recent improvement is simply a matter of a young team growing up.
“Maturity is certainly a factor,” she said, “but I also believe our seniors have taken control. Natalie Pickwell has stepped up her game, not only as an offensive player but as a rebounder. She’s been that leader we need. And Tarita Gordon has been a spark for us off the bench.”
Pickwell is the only player scoring in double figures, at 10.5, and averages 5.1 rebounds. Destiny Mitchell is at 9.9 and 7.3, respectively, while Gordon is averaging 9.6 ppg.
The Lady Bucs face a North Florida team tonight that is 5-11 and has lost four of its last five games. Then it’s on to Jacksonville for a Saturday afternoon affair.
ETSU is 10-2 against the Lady Ospreys but lost 64-62 in their gym last season. Jacksonville ended the Lady Bucs’ three-year run as conference champions last year in the semifinals.
“It’s always difficult on the road, and we always have a tough time with Jacksonville,” said Kemp. “They make you play a different type of game, for whatever reason. It’s always a low-scoring, competitive game. If we can come out of there with a victory, we’ll be happy.”