Isiah Brown was due for a big game, and he delivered one Monday night for the East Tennessee State basketball team.
The senior forward scored a season-high 23 points, grabbed nine rebounds and had five steals as the Bucs eased past James Madison 70-56 to snap a three-game losing streak. Brown hit 10 of 14 shots from the field and fell just two points shy of his career high, set against Kentucky last season.
“I’ve been shooting a good field-goal percentage,” said Brown, who is shooting a higher percentage from the field (.543) this season than the foul line (.517), “and I got a lot of touches tonight.”
Much of that was by design.
The Dukes of the Colonial Athletic Association had no real muscle inside, and Brown and the Bucs took full advantage. They held a 42-20 advantage on points in the paint and led 19-7 on second-chance points.
The first meeting between the teams in a decade got away from the Dukes early. They were looking at a 20-5 deficit after missing nine of their first 10 shots and committing 10 turnovers.
“We obviously got off to a great start,” said ETSU coach Murry Bartow, “and Isiah Brown had his best game of the year. He was just sensational.”
All three of the ETSU seniors had productive nights.
Adam Sollazzo bounced back from some recent struggles with 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting, while Tommy Hubbard collected 13 points, five rebounds and four steals.
Sollazzo showed the form that made him a player-of-the-year candidate in the Atlantic Sun Conference, beginning with a 3-pointer and a dunk in the first 1:06. The 6-6 point guard was able to get to the rim at will and boost his team-high 15.5 scoring average.
He said afterward that it was nice to face a non-conference team that perhaps didn’t know how to defend him.
“Teams (in the league) have started to scout me a little bit better,” said Sollazzo, “and I haven’t been playing like I’m capable of. Hitting that first big three tonight helped.”
The Bucs, who managed just 12 points in the first half of their last home game, against Belmont, needed less than six minutes to build a 13-1 advantage. They never went long without a basket.
The Bucs (11-10) shot 53 percent from the field for the game and outscored the Dukes 14-5 on free throws. JMU didn’t even get to the line in the second half.
“If we can clean up the offense, we have a chance to beat anybody we play,” said Bartow. “This team competes hard; we just struggle to score. No one should confuse that with a lack of effort.”
The Dukes (10-13) were able to dig out of the big hole early to trail 31-24 at the break. But the second half started much as the first, with the Bucs on a 12-3 run in the first four minutes.
It never got closer than nine the rest of the way.
“We got outplayed and outhustled,” said Matt Brady, JMU’s fourth-year head coach. “They jumped on us early and robbed us of our spirit. We did cut the deficit to seven and then came out and did it again.
“I don’t know if we’re a strong enough team mentally. We had 23 turnovers tonight, and that might be a season high.”
Eighteen of those were steals, including six by Sheldon Cooley, the A-Sun leader in that department.
“We got a lot of them in our black press,” said Bartow. “Our defense was pretty aggressive. Steals have been a consistent thing for us all season.”
The Dukes got 20 points from Humpty Hitchens, their 5-9 point guard who surely makes any all-name team. Conjuring up flashbacks of another guy in a purple uniform recently pouring in 3-pointers in the Dome, Hitchens matched his career high with a half-dozen from long range.
A.J. Davis added 11 points for the Dukes.
The victory was the third straight in the series for ETSU, which now holds a 7-4 lead. The Bucs get back to A-Sun play Saturday when they visit Kennesaw State.