JOHNSON CITY—On senior day at MSHA Athletic Center, the East Tennessee State basketball seniors put an exclamation point on the celebration with a runaway 84-71 victory over Atlantic Sun rival Florida Gulf Coast as point guard Adam Sollazzo scored 19 points, including the 1,000th point of his career.
Saturday saw ETSU finish the 2011-12 regular season with a three-game win streak going into next weeks’ A-Sun tournament at Mercer University.
“When you first get here, you never think to get to 1,000 points,” Sollazzo said. “More importantly, it’s been a great run. I love the guys on this team like my family and it’s been great. This program means a lot to me and it meant a lot to have Seth’s family out there. There wasn’t three seniors out there tonight. there were four.”
Sollazzo’s freshman roommate Seth Coy was killed in an automobile accident in 2008, and Sollazzo honors his friend and teammate by wearing his number 43. Coy’s family was in attendance and was honored in the opening celebration. Post Isiah Brown and guard Tommy Hubbard were the other seniors honored in the pre-game ceremony.
Junior guard Marcus Dubose opened the game with a flourish, hitting consecutive treys following a 3-pointer by Sollazzo as the Buccaneers roared to a 12-0 run to open the contest. From there the Bucs cruised to a 40-26 halftime advantage, having hit on 6-of-9 from beyond the arc and shooting 42.4 percent from the floor.
Dubose finished with a game-high 23 points, hitting on four-of-seven from distance and seven-for-17 from the floor.
“What opened up the offense tonight was Marcus Dubose came out on fire,” said Sollazzo. “When that happens it opens up a lot of lanes and this is the right time for us to start clicking. Through all the bad times and the ups and downs of a season, now is the time we want to fight through adversity and get momentum going.”
The Bucs (10-8 A-Sun) defensively held the Eagles (8-10 A-Sun) to 3-for-11 from distance shooting and just 10-for-23 from the field in the first half.
In the second half, FGCU trailed by as many as 22 points at 66-44 with 8:13 remaining, but put on a push from there to close the gap behind solid three-point shooting by Filip Cvjeticanin, who hit consecutive treys to bring the Eagles within 77-68 at the 1:13 mark.
Just after Cvjeticanin’s triple, Sollazzo stepped to the free-throw line and, with his first make, recorded his milestone point which gave ETSU a 10-point lead going down the stretch.
The Bucs built their enormous second-half lead with turnovers, forcing 20 miscues on FGCU — many of which resulted in easy transition buckets or rim-rocking dunks by Brown. On one such play, Sollazzo set up at the top of the key and sent in a perfect lob pass that Brown two-handed into the cylinder to give the Bucs their biggest lead of the night.
“We lead the country in steals,” said Bucs head coach Murry Bartow. “That’s a main reason we got to 84 points tonight. These seniors have accomplished a lot in their time here. They have each had a lot of individual honors, but they have also led this team to two NCAA tournaments and possibly a third this year. This game was critical to win. A loss would have been a hard thing to overcome going into the tournament. It gives us a chance to build on the good things we have done the last week offensively, and we are just looking at getting past the first game.
“We want to get that first tournament win and then advance to the next one.”
Brown poured in 20 points but did not record his record-setting blocked shot, which would put him at No. 1 on the ETSU all-time list ahead of Zakee Wadood. Brown currently has 181 blocks in his career.
“They aren’t coming in there anymore,” joked Brown about not getting a blocked shot in the game. “Hopefully, we still have a few games left and it will happen. Tonight was a great effort by everyone. It was a very emotional game for us. It’s crazy how time goes by and how much time you spend on that floor. It’s surreal to me right now.
“We shot the ball with confidence tonight, we spread the floor and attacked the basket and played with a lot of confidence that I hope carries over.”
Hubbard played despite suffering a concussion against Stetson on Thursday. He tallied four points on the night.
“I had to pass a doctor’s test to play tonight and I did,” Hubbard said. “It was wonderful to have my parents here and I left all my heart and energy on the floor tonight.”
The Bucs could wind up playing North Florida in the opening round. The Bucs swept North Florida this season, but it was the Ospreys that knocked the Bucs out of last year’s tournament.