They gave Isiah Brown a trophy ball for joining the 1,000-point club at East Tennessee State before Saturday’s matchup with North Florida.
His teammates then made sure Brown had the game ball in his hands early and often.
The senior forward cut loose for a career-high 27 points to lead the Bucs to a 65-50 victory that moved them up two spots, into fourth place, in the Atlantic Sun Conference standings.
“I wasn’t planning on getting up as many shots as I did,” said Brown, who went 11 of 18 from the field. “The guys kept feeding me and I took advantage of it. The offense was really crisp and efficient.”
The Bucs (13-11, 7-6) made half of their 50 shots, including 59 percent in the second half when they raced away from the Ospreys (13-14, 7-7).
ETSU point guard Adam Sollazzo said a fairly simple strategy was employed to try to get the team’s anemic offense untracked after a 54-46 loss Monday night at Mercer.
“We were trying to go inside out,” said Sollazzo. “A lot of that goes on Isiah Brown. He played tremendously tonight. He was a monster out there.”
Brown got the Bucs off and running with three baskets in the first two minutes. He had 13 points in a tight first half as they clung to a 31-30 lead.
North Florida briefly moved in front on a lay-in by Jimmy Williams early in the second half, and the roof suddenly fell in on the Ospreys.
The Bucs strung together 19 straight points over the next six minutes to lead 52-35. Sollazzo fueled the run with nine of his 16 points.
The Ospreys never got closer than 11 the rest of the way as they lost to the Bucs for the 13th time in their 14 meetings.
“I think they got a lot of easy looks and got the ball inside,” said North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll. “They kind of put the throttle on us.”
Driscoll was impressed with Brown’s progress on the offensive end.
“They kept feeding the ball to Isiah, and Isiah kept scoring,” he said. “He used to just be a shot blocker and rebounder. Now he’s a legitimate threat in the low post.”
Brown eclipsed his previous best 25 points in the opener last season at Kentucky. A dunk with 1:28 left put him over the top.
He had three dunks on the night, including one of the alley-oop variety from Sollazzo that qualified as the highlight of the day.
Using a variety of spin moves in the paint, he also whirled for what has become his bread-and-butter shot, the jump hook, whenever possible. He made three.
“It’s a very difficult shot to block, and it’s easy to see over the defense with my athleticism,” said Brown. “I can see the rim clearly.”
And then there was the spinning left-handed scoop high off the glass in the middle of ETSU’s decisive run.
“I play the piano,” he said, “and you can’t just play with your right hand. I’m very good with both hands.”
Brown had only four rebounds, but the Bucs still controlled the boards 31-23. Junior guard Marcus Dubose led the team with eight, and he also had four of its 10 steals.
Sheldon Cooley scored 11 points to give the Bucs three players in double figures.
Parker Smith was the only North Florida player to get there. The spindly junior guard had five 3-pointers and finished with 17 points, right at his season average. No other Osprey had more than seven, and Jerron Granberry was held to five on 1-of-6 shooting.
“That’s very odd for us,” said Driscoll, whose team had won four of five coming in. “East Tennessee State is one of the best defensive teams in our league, and I give them credit for creating havoc and turnovers.”
The Ospreys had 19 turnovers in all and shot 41 percent from the field. They struggled to score 20 points in the second half.
“Defensively we’ve been pretty good all year,” said ETSU coach Murry Bartow. “We were able to score a few more points today, and that got us going. Obviously, Isiah Brown had a great game. I don’t know if it was the best game of his career, but it was a great one. He was phenomenal.”
The Bucs will try to keep the momentum going Monday night when Jacksonville visits the Dome.