JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Payback will be the theme for the East Tennessee State basketball team when it plays at North Florida tonight.
The Ospreys ended ETSU’s season last March with a 59-55 decision in the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament semifinals. It’s North Florida’s only win against the Bucs in the12-game series between the two teams and it’s a game that the ETSU players say has gnawed at them since.
“That’s been on my mind since the day we lost to them,” ETSU point guard Adam Sollazzo said. “Every day in the summer when I was working out, I was thinking about that game. There’s a little bit of revenge. They’re a good team. Hopefully we can pull it out.”
The Bucs get their chance at revenge tonight when the two teams play at UNF Arena, where the 9-10 Ospreys are 7-2 this season. That includes a 21-point victory over Lipscomb.
“It’s on our minds, I’ll tell you that,” ETSU coach Murry Bartow said about the last meeting. “We’re not gonna try to win the game because of that, but obviously that game left a bad taste in our mouth last year. They just outplayed us on that day.
“It’s a new team, a new year, we’ve got a new identity and we just want to play a good game.”
As tough as losing to the former A-Sun doormat was for Sollazzo and Bartow, it was even more frustrating for Tommy Hubbard, who couldn’t do anything about it. He was red-shirted last season with an injured knee.
“It was tough watching from the bench,” said Hubbard, who has played a key role in ETSU’s four-game winning streak. “It was very hard because since I’ve been here we had never lost to North Florida. They were probably one of the most improved teams last year and this year I think they’re more talented.”
The Bucs’ latest outing was a 72-58 victory over Jacksonville. That left them 9-7 overall, 4-2 in the A-Sun.
“The big thing for us right now is us,” Bartow said. “We really have not focused a lot on our opponent for the last few weeks. We’re looking at the other teams, but we’re spending more time worrying about us. With the seven guys we’re playing, I really believe if those seven play well, we have a good chance to win any game we play.”
With J.C. Ward out for the season with an ankle injury, freshmen Rashawn Rembert and John Walton have moved up in the rotation. They get plenty of looks in practice, but Bartow admits he’s been a bit gun shy to use the youngsters in game situations.
“We need to deepen our bench,” Bartow said. “I’m really eager to get John more minutes and Rashawn more minutes. Then I get in the game and I get real tight with the minutes. It’s a huge concern of mine that we’re only playing seven guys. We really have not developed an eighth man, let alone a ninth man.”
Parker Smith leads a balanced North Florida scoring attack, averaging 11.9 points a game. Jerron Granberry averages 10.4. Interestingly, Smith and Granberry have each attempted 103 shots from 3-point range and they’ve each made 43.
Travis Wallace (10.2) and Andy Diaz (10.1) also average in double figure for the Ospreys.
For Sollazzo and fellow senior Isiah Brown, it will be their last game in their home state of Florida. Sollazzo is from Tampa while Brown is from Miami. Underclassmen Sheldon Cooley, Lukas Poderis and Rembert are also from Florida.
“Time definitely flies,” Brown said. “I’m just trying to make the most of it. It’s always a special feeling playing in Florida.”