JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Beware the wounded animal, even if it is a Dolphin.
When East Tennessee State plays Jacksonville this afternoon, it will be a battle between the hottest basketball team in the Atlantic Sun Conference against, well, the coldest.
While the Bucs’ modest three-game winning streak is currently the longest in the conference, the Dolphins have lost 12 games in a row. They haven’t won since before Thanksgiving.
Still, ETSU coach Murry Bartow isn’t taking anything for granted. His team has waged some intense battles with the Dolphins through the years, especially in the games at Veterans Memorial Arena in downtown Jacksonville.
“One thing about our guys, about our program, is we don’t get too caught up in records,” Bartow said. “We know we’ll have to play a heck of a good game. I don’t care if we’re playing a guarantee game or a team in our league that looks like it doesn’t have a good record. It’s on the road and we’ll have to play well to win. If we don’t, we’ll get beat.”
ETSU, which lost its first two A-Sun games, also in Florida, has climbed back into the league race with the three consecutive wins.
“Right now we’re playing well,” point guard Adam Sollazzo said. “We want to keep it rolling and keep that momentum right into the tournament.”
While the Bucs have won all six of their home games this season, they’re 2-7 on the road. That will have to improve if they’re going to stay in the race for the A-Sun title.
“Road wins are hard to come by,” Sollazzo said. “There’s a different atmosphere and you’re playing in front of the other team’s crowd. But I think we have a team that likes playing on the road. We have a couple of guys that are real gritty. They like the challenge and hopefully we’ll rise to the occasion.”
The Dolphins actually had a two-game winning streak early in the season when they beat Samford and Bethune-Cookman. Since then, however, it’s been nothing but losses. Only four of their 16 games have been at home, and they’ve gone 1-3 in those.
Keith McDougald, a 6-foot-1 sophomore, leads Jacksonville by averaging 11.6 points a game. Delwan Graham, a 6-foot-7 senior, averages 10.1.
Cliff Warren is in his seventh year as Jacksonville’s head coach and has had five consecutive winning seasons – including back-to-back years of at least 20 – after going 1-26 in his first season, 2005-06.
Sollazzo, having a solid all-around season, leads the Bucs with a 15.9-point-per-game average. He’s third in the league and averages 4.9 assists and 5.5 rebounds as well. Marcus Dubose averages 11.5, Tommy Hubbard 10.8 and Isiah Brown 10.5.
“We’re playing a little bit better,” Bartow said. “We’ve won five of our last seven and the two losses were Tennessee and Clemson, and we did a lot of good things in those games. We’re rebounding better and offensively we’re playing better. Our rotation is a little cleaner in terms of who’s starting.
“We’re getting vastly improved play from Lukas Poderis and Adam is really rolling right now. I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
The Bucs will stay in Jacksonville through the weekend. They play at North Florida on Monday night in a rematch of last year’s A-Sun tournament semifinal won by the Ospreys.