East Tennessee State basketball coach Murry Bartow has called his team “offensively challenged,” and the numbers certainly back him up.
Coming off a loss at Mercer in which they scored a season-low 46 points on 27 percent shooting, the Bucs are averaging 68.2 points through 23 games. If they finished there, that would be the lowest total for an ETSU team in the last 14 years.
The offensive struggles have become a trend, considering the Bucs averaged less than 70 points per game each of the last two seasons. Only one of the previous nine teams averaged less than 76, and three were above 81.
The Bucs are currently shooting 43.9 percent from the field, which would be the second-worst mark in the last 12 years. As for 3-pointers, their 30.4 percent clip would match the 1993-94 team for the lowest output since the arc became universal in 1986. The Bucs have just 98 threes for the season, an average of 4.2 per game, which puts them at No. 320 nationally.
In the Atlantic Sun Conference stats, they rank eighth in scoring and free-throw percentage, sixth in field-goal percentage and last in 3-point shooting and assists.
It’s hard to believe there once was a time when scoring was relatively easy.
In the six seasons from 1988-94, the Bucs averaged at least 83 points per game, with a high of 94 in the 1990-91 season. (That team went over 100 nine times and set a school record with 28 wins.) They also won four Southern Conference championships.
North Carolina currently leads the nation in scoring, at 84.1. ETSU is actually middle of the pack — 152nd out of 338 teams.
The saving grace for this ETSU team, which carries a 12-11 record (6-6 in conference) into Saturday’s home game against Jacksonville, has been its defense.
The Bucs are allowing opponents 65.5 points per game on 43.5 percent shooting. They’re second in the league in scoring defense, third in scoring margin and first in steals.
They have, however, surrendered 186 3-pointers, almost twice as many as they’ve scored, and opponents are shooting 35.9 percent from behind the arc.
- There is some good news emerging from a bad season for the women’s basketball team.
Sophomore forward Destiny Mitchell is starting to show her form of a year ago, before suffering a knee injury late in the season. In the last six games, Mitchell is averaging 17.8 points and 11.0 rebounds, and she’s shooting 77 percent from the field. Included was a career-high 30 points a week ago at Mercer on 12-of-15 shooting.
“I think she just has confidence in her knee now, that it’s going to hold up,” said coach Karen Kemp. “She just goes out and plays. I actually think she’s playing better right now than she did a year ago, and hopefully she can keep that up.”
For the season, Mitchell is averaging 11.7 points and 8.0 rebounds, both team highs but still off her freshman totals of 14.5 and 9.0, respectively. She leads the conference in field-goal percentage, at 53.5 percent.
Unfortunately for the Lady Bucs, those numbers haven’t translated into a lot of wins. They have lost six of their last eight games, including a 78-68 setback at Kennesaw State last Saturday in which they led by 15, and are 6-17 overall (5-7 in the conference).
“I think we’ve played OK the last couple of games,” said Kemp, “but we really need to pull it together as a team and finish the regular season strong.”
The Lady Bucs host Jacksonville tonight at 7.
- Kemp’s team is getting some help behind the scenes from a pair of post players who transferred in but aren’t eligible this season.
Serena Clark, a 6-2 sophomore, came from Clemson and has been practicing with the team all season. The newcomer is 6-3 sophomore Tiana Burley, who played one season at Charlotte. She enrolled in classes on Jan. 12.
“Both players are working hard in practice and I think making our team better,” said Kemp. “Serena is a natural leader … it would really be nice to have her on the floor right now.
“We were looking at it today in the office and saying this is the first time we’ll have more post players than guards, with those two and the ones we signed early.”
The coach expects the physical presence of Clark and Burley to benefit Mitchell next season.
“Hopefully Destiny can expand her game a little bit,” said Kemp. “I think maybe she’ll develop more of an outside shot once Serena and Tiana and the young ones come into their own.”
- Kara Woods was one of the most accomplished softball pitchers in the state during her time at Unicoi County, piling up 130 wins, 1,100 strikeouts and a state championship in 2009.
It looks like the freshman will get a chance to prove herself early in her career at ETSU.
Coach Brad Irwin said Wednesday that Woods will be a front-line starter, along with senior Shelby Morris, for the season ahead. The Lady Bucs open Saturday in the Georgia State First Pitch Classic.
“Kara was a very good high school player, and she’s gotten better since she got here,” said Irwin. “There are going to be times when she gets hit hard here in the coming weeks, when she faces adversity, and she’ll get to show us what she’s made of.
“She’s been on top for quite awhile, a really dominant pitcher, and I’m excited to see how she reacts to pitching at this level.”
Irwin is in his second year at ETSU, and he’s looking for a bounce-back season. The Lady Bucs went 3-17 in the conference in 2011 and 16-32 overall. It was a major struggle the last six weeks.
Irwin hasn’t put away that season just yet.
“I have mentioned it some in our preseason workouts,” he said. “I try not to beat them over the head with it, but when I feel the time is right, when our focus isn’t where it needs to be, I use it as a reminder. If it’s not in the back of their minds, we’ve got bigger issues than I thought.”
Irwin has brought in seven new players and expects a few to start. If nothing else, new blood has brought a new attitude.
“We definitely have more of a competitive atmosphere,” he said. “We kind of seemed to be complacent at times last year. This year we have a lot more position battles, and the new kids have a fire about them.
“I feel like we’re better defensively and offensively. We’re deeper. But we’re playing a tougher schedule, so record-wise I don’t know how we’ll look at the end of the season. I expect us to be a better team.”