JOHNSON CITY (Jan. 9, 2012) – Overcoming an uninspired first half effort, the ETSU men’s basketball team went to a man-to-man defense and turned up the full-court pressure in the second half, rallying for acting head coach Scott Wagers as the Buccaneers enjoyed a 73-69 win over Kennesaw State Monday evening inside the ETSU/MSHA Athletic Center.
Wagers, who was standing in so head coach Murry Bartow could attend funeral services for his father Gene in Birmingham, Ala., looked on as the Bucs won for the third straight time and improved to 8-7 overall, 3-2 in Atlantic Sun Conference play. Meanwhile, the Owls dropped to 3-14, 0-6.
“This was not a fun way to be a head coach,” said Wagers, the longtime ETSU assistant. “We are all mourning the loss of Gene Bartow and all he meant to this team and to Coach Bartow. Our players knew how great a man he was, and I think we could sense the guys were a little off tonight in the first half.
“But I’m really proud of the fight they showed and the effort in the second half. Our seniors really stepped up and made big plays down the stretch, and Jarvis Jones made some big shots for us.”
The Bucs, who were down by as many as 11 early in the second half, went on a 22-6 run at that point to gain a five-point edge 49-44 with 10 minutes left in the game. From there, KSU went back on top at 54-51, but again ETSU answered the run and led the rest of the way to pick up the victory.
ETSU’s senior trio of Adam Sollazzo (Tampa), Tommy Hubbard (Boston) and Isiah Brown (Miami, Fla.) were key to the victory, with Hubbard posting a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds, Sollazzo scoring a team-high 20 points, and Brown pitching in 10 points and five boards.
Meanwhile, Jones – the junior guard from Memphis – scored 13 second-half points, and fellow junior Sheldon Cooley (Tampa) netted 12 points.
In the first half, Kennesaw State used runs of 9-0 early in the game and another 11-2 spurt in the final five minutes on the half to take a 31-23 advantage at the break. Key to the Owls’ success was a 5-of-11 clip from 3-point range, led by 12 points from guard Spencer Dixon.
Overall, KSU shot 57 percent from the field in the first half and out-rebounded the Bucs 15-10. Meanwhile, ETSU’s vaunted pressure defense was only able to force seven turnovers off three steals in the opening 20 minutes.
However, the second half was a different story for ETSU – thanks mainly to a switch from zone to man-to-man, as well as a re-energized full-court defensive attack. Even so, Kennesaw State still led 54-53 with just over five minutes left in the game.
From there though, the Bucs hit on 12-of-14 shots from the foul line and got timely baskets from Sollazzo, Jones, Cooley and Hubbard in the final minutes.
For Kennesaw State, Dixon led the way with a game-high 22 points, while All A-Sun performer Markeith Cummings added 17 points. In addition, Delbert Love pitched in a 12-point effort.
ETSU forced 16 turnovers on nine steals, and out-rebounded the Owls 33-25. The Bucs shot 71 percent from the foul line and 47 percent from the field, while KSU hit on 50 percent of its shots for the game and was a strong 48 percent from 3-point range.
The Bucs will be back on the road this weekend, taking on Jacksonville Saturday at 3:30 p.m., followed by a meeting with North Florida on Monday at 7 p.m. For more on ETSU men’s basketball throughout the 2011-12 season, visit ETSUBucs.com and click on the men’s hoops link.