Tuesday, January 12, 2010

ETSU Fights to the Top with Heavy Hearts

The ETSU Buccaneers men’s basketball team continues to overcome and refuses to fall from the Atlantic Sun elite despite tremendous losses on and off the court.

After posting a second-place finish in the A-Sun standings in the 2008-09 season, the Bucs claimed the 2009 Atlantic Sun title and the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. ETSU lost its top two scorers to graduation and in the offseason, the Bucs suffered something tragic and unexpected. During the summer, ETSU suffered the tragic loss of center Seth Coy in a car accident and entered the first game of the season with heavy hearts.

In the season opening homecoming game with Appalachian State, ETSU found itself nursing a one-point lead with 16 second remaining when Adam Sollazzo, Coy’s roommate who now wears No. 43, stepped to the line.

Sallazzo turned over the ball on the previous possession, allowing the Mountaineers to close within a point of the Bucs. The sophomore hit both free-throw attempts and Appalachian State’s last chance 3-point attempt came up short The Bucs started the season with a win for their fallen friend and Sallazzo ended the game as ETSU’s leading scorer, pouring in 13.

The Bucs also needed to replace the third leading scoring in school history as Courtney Pigram graduated after racking up 2,043 career points in Johnson City, Tenn. Kevin Tiggs also finished his ETSU career in 2009 with a total of 1,197 points in his career good for the 18th spot on the Bucs all-time scoring chart.

One of the players the Bucs looked to fill the space left by Pigram and Tiggs, Mike Smith suffered an early season injury and his status for the remained of the season remains unknown.

One player who has stepped up to shoulder the load for ETSU has been Tommy Hubbard, who last year gave up the possibility of a medical redshirt to return and help the Bucs to the Atlantic Sun Championship and near upset of Pittsburgh in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

The junior guard averaged only four points a season ago but now ranks seventh in the A-Sun racking up 14.9 points per game. Despite the offensive emergence for the Boston native, Hubbard maintains his reputation as a defensive stopper, ranking fifth in the conference in steals. Hubbard joins elite company as one of three players ranked in the top seven in scoring and top five and steals among Mercer’s James Florence and preseason player of the year JU’s Ben Smith.

The Bucs’ emotions have fueled their season leading them to an upset of Southeastern Conference foe Arkansas. ETSU also posted solid road showings against Louisville and Tennessee, falling short of the upset each time.

The Bucs have not lost their swagger in conference play, opening the season with four consecutive victories before falling to Mercer on Saturday. Even with the loss, ETSU remains in great position to challenge for the A-Sun title as the Bucs remain tied for second in the league standings.

ETSU continues to try to find it’s was through a dark time in its history. Despite all of the emotions, the Bucs still have each other on and off of the court and they continue to win for the players they have and the players they have lost.

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