Friday, January 23, 2015

ETSU looms as massive test for recoiling Terriers

An old nemesis will ramble into Spartanburg tomorrow night, as East Tennessee State will take the floor at Ben Johnson Arena for the first time since 2005. Back in the day, however, the Bucs were not exactly a choice foe for the Terriers; on top of dropping the last ten of eleven contests to the Johnson City, Tenn., school, Wofford has only bested ETSU once as a Southern Conference member.

The Bucs, who clinched four straight league titles from 1990-1993, left the conference in 2005 after twenty-seven years of membership, instead joining the Atlantic Sun. Last season, eleventh-year head coach Murry Bartow piloted ETSU to a 17-14 (10-8 conf.) regular season mark. A thrilling 89-88 double-overtime victory over Lipscomb in the A-Sun quarterfinals earned them a matchup with eventual tournament runner-up and NIT participant Florida Gulf Coast, who took out the Bucs by five points.

Despite the loss, Bartow's outfit earned a bid to the CIT, where they would face an old in-state foe of their own, Chattanooga. In one of their top defensive showings of the season, ETSU limited the Mocs to 31 percent shooting from the floor, while they themselves used excellent outings from players making a splash in the league this season, namely Rashawn Rembert and Jalen Riley.

Though ETSU would eventually bow out to Towson in the ensuing round of action, it seemed that the Bucs would bring a refreshing, balanced attack to the SoCon, whose scenery was in the process of shifting, with the departure of squads like perennial power Davidson, and the addition of Mercer, VMI, and the Bucs.

Rashawn Rembert received all-SoCon accolades prior to the season.

Jalen Riley, a Racine, Wisc., native, leads the squad with an impressive 20.2 points per game from his point guard spot. In the Bucs' latest exposition, a 70-59 disposal of The Citadel -- a team that defeated the Terriers, mind you -- the senior logged a team-leading 34 minutes, while also going a modest 6-15 from the floor, posting eighteen points on top of four assists.

Also with eighteen points against the Bulldogs was starting strong forward Rashawn Rembert, who is maintaining an average of 17.5 points per game, and the second-best shooting percentage of Buc starters (46 percent), a mark inferior to that of shooting guard A.J. Merriweather (49 percent). The senior from Tampa, Fla., also leads the squad in total minutes played (598).

From his power forward spot, Lester Wilson is averaging 13.2 points and four rebounds per game, while starter Alex Bates is used to splitting time with the bench. Speaking of that bench, Isaac Banks is logging about five boards -- the freshman from New Orleans, La., grabbed eight against The Citadel -- a game, while Petey McClain is earning about twenty minutes of play each contest.

The Bucs, which hold a 6-3 record in conference play, will collide with a Terrier team fresh off dominant wins against Western Carolina (nineteen points) and Furman (twenty-five points). Wofford (6-1 conf.) also has a recuperating starting five, as point guard Eric Garcia found his way into the lineup on Thursday evening, albeit not at full capacity.

This contest could either prove as a testament to the Terriers' strength -- Wofford has triumphed over the Bucs just once since 1996 -- or lift a returning, yet solid squad higher in the ranks.

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