A trip to Jacksonville didn’t do the East Tennessee State women’s basketball team any good last week.
The Lady Bucs left town on a three-game winning streak and returned with two frustrating losses. They saw North Florida rally from way back in the last five minutes to pull out a 73-70 victory, and the effort carried over to Jacksonville, where they were crushed 70-44 two days later.
The Lady Bucs find themselves at 3-4 in the Atlantic Sun Conference (4-13 overall) heading into a home game tonight against Belmont (4-3, 5-13).
Coach Karen Kemp said earlier this week that changes in the rotation are likely. Freshman forward Maria Bond and/or sophomore Shawn Randall may be headed back to the bench after starting the last five games.
The Lady Bucs hope a return to the Dome means a return to winning. They’ve won 37 of their last 41 conference games at home, including the first three this season.
Belmont has struggled on the road, winning just once in nine attempts. The Lady Bruins do have one of the A-Sun’s best players in Haley Nelson, a 6-2 senior center who ranks third in scoring and rebounding and second in blocked shots.
Since losing to Belmont in the conference championship game in 2007, the Lady Bucs have won nine straight in the series.
The homestand continues Saturday when struggling Lipscomb (3-15, 1-6) visits. Then comes LSU on Tuesday night.
n The men’s team continues to rank among the national leaders in steals, and Sheldon Cooley is a big part of that.
The junior guard is averaging 2.3 steals per game and leads three teammates who are among the top 10 in the league in that category.
“I’m good at playing off the ball and getting into the passing lanes,” Cooley said Wednesday. “When we press, that puts me in a good position. Anticipation is a big part of it, too.”
Tommy Hubbard (1.8) is fourth in the A-Sun, while Adam Sollazzo (1.6) is fifth and Isiah Brown (1.5) is 10th. The Bucs were second only to top-ranked Syracuse in steals in the latest NCAA stats, at 9.9 per game.
While Cooley likes those numbers, he says the ETSU defense has room for improvement.
“Lately we’ve been letting teams shoot a better percentage in the second half than the first,” he said. “We’re getting off to good starts in most of the games. We just need to keep up the defense.”
n Scott Wagers, the assistant coach who oversees much of that defense, says steals are mostly a product of aggressive team play.
“It’s a group thing,” said Wagers. “We have a lot of guys with real good hands. Jarvis, Marcus, Cooley, Tommy, Isiah, Lukas … they’re all great deflection guys. It’s neat to have a group like that.”
The Bucs have been almost a strictly zone team on defense this season. They mix it up and press regularly, and results have been solid most nights.
The team is second in the conference in scoring defense, at 66.2 points – Mercer leads at 64.0 – and fourth in field-goal percentage defense (43.2).
“I think we’ve made some improvements as we’ve gone along,” said Wagers. “We’re forcing a lot of turnovers – about 18 a game, and 10 steals – and that’s a good indicator.
“We’re always trying to hold people to 69 points or less. I think for the season we’re at 66, but our field-goal percentage defense is 43. That’s too high, and we need to get it down. Some of that is where we’re going for more things and giving up a few more easy baskets.”
Wagers would like to play more man-to-man defense but says it doesn’t suit this team very well.
“Murry and I over the summer looked at our personnel very closely,” he said, referring to head coach Murry Bartow. “We’re man guys, but you can’t be stubborn. You have to play to your strengths. Playing man most of the time sounds great, but it just doesn’t work as well with this group.
“We’ve done pretty well with the 1-1-3 matchup zone, and some successful teams are running it a lot. And I think our press complements the zone. The other team is feeling they got through the press and can run their stuff, and then suddenly we’re trapping out of the zone.”
n The Bucs have won five in a row after an 0-2 start in the league as they head into Saturday’s home game against Lipscomb. They’ll host league leader Belmont on Monday night.
The Bucs have yet to lose in six games at home.
The team has been leaning heavily on Sollazzo, its senior point guard. He’s now second in the A-Sun in scoring (16.3), third in assists (5.1) and fifth in steals.
The ETSU offense still doesn’t pack much punch overall. The Bucs are last in assists and 3-pointers, and they’re fourth in scoring, at 70.6 ppg.