Adnan Hodzic and Josh Slater are long gone, and Lipscomb is about a .500 basketball team in late January.
None of that matters to East Tennessee State coach Murry Bartow.
Year after year Bartow has watched the Bisons give his team fits, and he expects nothing less today in the Dome when the teams clash for the first time this season. Tipoff is 4 o’clock.
“If you look back over the last four or five years, it seems like every single game with Lipscomb has come down to the wire,” Bartow said Friday. “And a few have gone overtime. We’ve been fortunate to win most of them.”
The Bucs have certainly held the upper hand, winning 10 of the last 12 to expand their lead in the series to 29-10. Four have been overtime affairs; the Bucs won the last meeting 102-95 in double overtime.
The stars of those teams — Hodzic and Slater for Lipscomb, and Mike Smith, Micah Williams and Justin Tubbs for ETSU — have moved on. But the cupboards weren’t left bare.
The Bucs have gathered themselves after a slow start to reel off five straight victories in conference; they’re tied for second place in the Atlantic Sun at 5-2, a game behind Belmont.
The Bisons are the only team in the league to have beaten the Bruins, and they’re averaging over 76 points a game. (They’re also giving up the identical number.)
In typical shootout fashion, the Bisons defeated Stetson 104-103 in overtime in their last outing. And that came two days after losing to Florida Gulf Coast 84-80 in OT.
“They’re certainly a different type team now,” said Bartow. “There had been so much focus on Hodzic and Slater for the last several years, but Scott (Sanderson) has really done a nice job putting new pieces together. They have a lot of offensive firepower.
“They were good enough to go to Belmont and win, which is all I need to know.”
Lipscomb’s leading scorer is guard Jordan Burgason, and he’s a gunner. The 6-3 senior has made 51 of 99 attempts from 3-point range and is averaging 16.2 points per game.
Bartow calls him a “phenomenal shooter.”
“He’s just one of those guys if you give him a clean look, you can forget it,” said the coach. “He’s taking a lot of threes and making a lot of threes. A guy like him, you just try to make every shot a tough shot. You try to make him do something he doesn’t want to do.”
The Bisons are also getting double-figure scoring from freshman guard Zavion Williams (11.1). Senior center Justin Glenn is third in the league in rebounding (7.4) and second in field-goal percentage (.640).
Sophomore guard Robert Boyd was the team’s second-leading scorer when he was ruled academically ineligible after last semester. The Knox Fulton product reportedly has dropped out of school.
The Bucs, meanwhile, have four guys scoring in double figures, led by senior point guard Adam Sollazzo, who was named A-Sun player of the week on Tuesday. Sollazzo averages 16.3 points to go with 5.2 assists and 5.5 rebounds.
Marcus Dubose (11.2 ppg), Isiah Brown (10.9) and Tommy Hubbard (10.8) are also legitimate offensive threats. Hubbard has become the team’s leading rebounder, at 6.7 per game.
For the Bucs, who are 6-0 at home, today’s game is the lead-in to a visit by Belmont on Monday night. The Bruins have had their number, much as the Bucs have had Lipscomb’s.
Bartow can’t imagine his players would be looking ahead.
“We’re very day to day in this program,” he said. “You kind of bundle the two Nashville schools some, because they come back-to-back, but we know we’ll have our hands full with Lipscomb. Whenever you play two games like these, it’s always important to win the first one.
“We need to keep our winning streak going, keep our home streak going and just give us that extra burst of momentum. I really think we’ll have to play one of our better games of the year to win.”
Notes: The Bucs have seven players averaging over 19 minutes a game, and four who average less than eight.
Bartow has lamented the lack of a deeper bench while blaming himself for not giving some of the youngsters a chance to show their stuff.
“I always have nine guys running with the so-called blue team in practice. Rashawn (Rembert) and John (Walton) are our eighth and ninth men,” he said. “Bottom line, we get into the games, and I’m just trying to win that one game, and I’m a lot more confident with our top seven guys. They’re all juniors and seniors and have great experience.
“The only way to progress with the rotation is for me to play Rashawn and John more minutes … I just haven’t developed the bench as much as I need to. It’s very much on my mind.”