The East Tennessee State basketball team is in the home stretch, but the Bucs were thinking about more than basketball on Wednesday.
A day before playing host to Stetson in an Atlantic Sun Conference game, the team was coming to grips with an armed robbery that reportedly left senior point guard Adam Sollazzo and junior forward J.C. Ward bound and gagged on Tuesday night. They were unharmed.
The incident happened at Buccaneer Ridge in the apartment of Ward and junior guard Sheldon Cooley. Cooley wasn’t present at the time.
The victimized players were off limits to the media on Wednesday, with a university spokesman saying they weren’t allowed to talk about the robbery because of the ongoing investigation.
“That was scary,” Bucs senior forward Isiah Brown said. “You’re not supposed to have a weapon on campus. For somebody to come to your property with a weapon, it makes you wonder what might have happened. It could happen to anybody.”
Brown said he was out with friends when he received an email saying there had been a robbery.
“You hear about it and say, ‘Oh shoot, is that my apartment?’ ” he said. “Then when you find out it’s your teammates and they were in there, it’s really scary. For that to happen to them is very unfortunate and a very scary experience.
“This is a big hit. We need to focus on our game. You just have to wonder where’s everybody’s head is gonna be. It’s bad timing.”
Sollazzo and Cooley were not at the start of Wednesday afternoon’s practice because they were still meeting with police. Sollazzo is the team’s leading scorer, averaging 14.7 points a game. Cooley was coming off a 17-point effort against Lipscomb. Ward has missed most of the season with a foot injury that required surgery.
Coach Murry Bartow said he expects Sollazzo and Cooley to be in the lineup tonight.
“This is a distraction,” Bartow said. “It’s unfortunate that it happened. As of right this second, my hope is that Adam and Sheldon will play in the game. But if for whatever reason we don’t think they’re able to play, we won’t play them in the game. We’ll know more in the next 24 hours.”
Bartow said he was alerted as soon as the incident was reported.
“It wasn’t a real pleasant experience,” he said. “I was with them a good bit last night. They were OK when I got there.”
Before Tuesday night’s incident, Bartow figured his biggest worry heading into the next game would be the health of Tommy Hubbard. The senior forward took a nasty spill against Lipscomb and landed on his head. He’ll be on the bench tonight.
“That’s a big blow,” Bartow said. “He’s a senior. He’s experienced. He’s one of our best competitors, one of our best defenders and he can rebound and score. It’s pretty obvious when you lose one of your best two or three players, it’s gonna affect your team.”
Hubbard, who averages 9.7 points and a team-leading 7.1 rebounds a game, was injured early in ETSU’s win over Lipscomb when he collided with Deonte Alexander while trying to make a steal and hit his head on the floor. He missed the rest of the game.
“I’m feeling much better than when it happened,” Hubbard said. “I’m taking it a day at a time.”
Hubbard and Sollazzo are two of three seniors on the team. Their careers will be coming to a close shortly with some tainted memories of the last week of their last regular season.
“I was looking forward to these last two home games,” Hubbard said. “My parents are coming and they’ve never been down here. I’m trying to stay positive about it and rest. Not being able to practice or play just makes me hungrier and makes me appreciate the game more.”
Stetson comes into tonight’s game fighting for its postseason life. The Hatters, under first-year coach Casey Alexander, a former Belmont assistant, beat the Bucs 73-65 on Dec. 1 in Deland, Fla. But they find themselves on the bubble for the A-Sun tournament. They’re 6-10 in the league, a half-game ahead of Jacksonville for the final spot in the tournament.
Stetson is coming off an 86-80 win over Florida Gulf Coast that broke a four-game losing streak. Adam Pegg leads the team by averaging 15.0 points a game. Chris Perez and Aaron Graham each average 13.3.
The Bucs (14-13 overall, 8-8 A-Sun) have earned a spot in the tournament and are trying to improve their seeding. They can still finish as high as fourth.
Brown is one blocked shot away from catching Zakee Wadood as ETSU’s all-time leader. Brown, who had a single-season school record 71 blocks last year, has 181 in his career.
ETSU still leads the nation in steals at 10.5 per game. Cooley ranks 11th nationally, averaging 2.5.