The Jacksonville swagger is noticeably absent this season.
With 20 losses already on their worksheet, the Dolphins visit East Tennessee State tonight simply trying to qualify for the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament. Count the Bucs among those who are surprised one of the preseason favorites has fallen so hard.
“Jacksonville has always been a very good team,” said Adam Sollazzo, ETSU’s senior point guard. “Right now their record doesn’t show it, but they’re tough and scrappy.”
Senior center Isiah Brown just shook his head when he was asked about the Dolphins. The Bucs have won the last five games in the series to take a 10-4 lead, but it has rarely been easy.
“I’ve been here a long time,” said Brown, “and it’s never a comforting game.”
The Dolphins (5-20) were picked third in the A-Sun preseason poll but now find themselves in real danger of missing the tournament. They stand ninth, at 3-11, and are two games behind Stetson, which currently holds the final qualifying spot.
Four games remain in the regular season.
The Bucs (13-11, 7-6) are trying to build on a 65-50 victory over North Florida on Saturday in which Brown erupted for a career-high 27 points. They passed the Ospreys and Florida Gulf Coast in the process, moving into a fourth-place tie with Lipscomb.
The ETSU offense shot 50 percent from the field, with Brown going 11 of 18. His previous scoring high was 25 points.
“Isiah is hard to deal with,” said Bucs coach Murry Bartow. “He can score with his right hand, he can score with his left hand. We were really trying to get him isolated down there (on the block) today.”
The Bucs trailed by two early in the second half before racing away with 19 straight points. Sollazzo scored nine during the run and finished with 16.
Jacksonville, meanwhile, was losing 70-66 at South Carolina Upstate – its fifth loss in six games.
The Dolphins suffered through a 13-game drought earlier this season that ended after the Bucs left town with a 72-58 victory . Sollazzo had a game-high 18 points in that one, with Tommy Hubbard adding 16.
Bartow is trying to squeeze more offense out of Hubbard. The senior forward has attempted just five shots and scored six points over the last two games.
That’s just the latest dilemma in this rollercoaster season for the Bucs, who have struggle to score and never developed much of a bench. They had five players each go at least 30 minutes against the Ospreys.
“If we press hard and defend hard, the question is whether we can score enough points,” said Bartow. “Can we continue to get Isiah Brown the ball? How do we get Tommy Hubbard more shots?”
The Bucs face a team tonight that ranks ninth in the conference in scoring, just behind them, at 64.4 ppg. The Dolphins are dead last in field-goal percentage (40.8).
Notes: With 176 blocked shots, Brown is now just six behind Zakee Wadood on ETSU’s career list. He had two Saturday to break a tie for second place with Greg Dennis.
Brown needs seven blocks to move into fifth all-time in the A-Sun ...
Sophomore guard Aloys Cabell has led Jacksonville in scoring the last three games to boost his season average to 11.3. He tossed in 23 points in the loss at Upstate.