Isiah Brown is returning to the scene of one of the best performances in his collegiate career when the East Tennessee State basketball team plays at Kennesaw State today.
Considering that he’s coming off his most productive game of the season, it could add up to a big day for the Bucs’ senior forward.
Four years ago as a red-shirt freshman, Brown made a splash at Kennesaw’s Convocation Center with six dunks, most of them of the spectacular variety, in an 18-point breakout performance.
“Man, it feels like yesterday,” Brown said. “It’s just surreal. I remember it like it was yesterday. That was fun.”
ETSU, in desperate need of an Atlantic Sun Conference victory, begins a two-game Georgia road trip today at Kennesaw State (3-20, 0-11). The Bucs come in 11-10, 5-5. They’ve lost their last three conference games to fall into sixth place in the league standings.
The 6-foot-8 Brown is coming off a season-high 23-point effort in the Bucs’ last outing, a 70-56 non-conference victory over James Madison that broke a three-game losing streak.
“Isiah is a big key for us,” ETSU coach Murry Bartow said. “I’ve got to run some more things for him. His teammates have to be aware of where he is and know that we’ve got an advantage there in every game we play.
“And he’s got to be ready to play and stay out of foul trouble. He needs to have his motor running high.”
Brown’s motor was running high in the easy win over James Madison. He reached his season high point total, going 10 for 14 from the field, despite being limited to 20 minutes because of foul trouble.
It was a big change from the Bucs’ previous outing when he got 11 points in a 58-54 loss to USC-Upstate. Brown, the most efficient shooter on the team, only got off seven shots in Spartanburg. He made five of them.
After that game, Brown spoke about accountability and how disappointed he was even though he had surpassed the 1,000-point mark in career scoring.
“When you don’t play as well as you feel like your team needs you to play, you’re gonna have a whole lot of accountability,” he said. “When you play good, like against James Madison, it’s like ‘OK, I’m accountable for the win too.’ ”
Brown is shooting 56 percent from the field, ranking fifth in the A-Sun.
“I think it’s pretty obvious when you look at our team and compare it to other teams, he’s kind of the X factor,” Bartow said. “When he plays great, we’re pretty tough to beat. But off we don’t have a lot of guys who are scoring consistently.”
Brown’s 52 percent free throw shooting is the worst percentage on the team among the regulars.
The Bucs beat Kennesaw State 73-69 earlier this season. They also play at Mercer on Monday night.
ETSU is averaging 69.5 points a game, ranking sixth in the A-Sun. It’s also the worst 3-point shooting team in the league, making 31 percent of its long shots.
“We’ve really, in most every game, defended well enough to win,” Bartow said. “We’re pretty challenged offensively. At times we’ve been really bad. At times we’ve been a lot better.
“In any game we play, if we’re clicking offensively, we’ll have a good chance to win. But that’s the challenge with this team.”
Notes: Eighteen steals against James Madison put ETSU in the national lead at 10.6 per game. Syracuse is second at 10.3. ...
Kennesaw State, under new coach Lewis Preston, is led by Markeith Cummings, whose scoring average of 16.1 points a game is third in the A-Sun. ...
ETSU senior forward Tommy Hubbard has missed practice this week with a toe injury. He is listed as day-to-day but is expected to play on the road swing. ...
The Bucs have been working out in their own practice clothes. After the loss at Upstate, Bartow took away the players’ practice gear and locked them out of the locker room. Even the performance against James Madison didn’t get them out of the doghouse.
“You don’t earn it back with one game,” Bartow said.