FT. MYERS, Fla. — The East Tennessee State basketball team was prepared for the worst Thursday night in its rematch with Florida Gulf Coast.
That’s pretty much what the Bucs delivered.
The Eagles soared to an early lead and kept pouring it on in a 67-43 victory that felt more lopsided than that. The Bucs shot just 22 percent from the field and were held to their lowest point total against an Atlantic Sun Conference opponent.
“That was ugly — as ugly a game as we’ve had all year,” said ETSU coach Murry Bartow. “It was just a perfect storm. Every guy on our team had a bad shooting night, and we were playing the best team in our league on their home floor.
“They’re a good team that was angry about the way the first game went.”
The Bucs came back from 19 down early in the second half to win 85-75 a month ago in Johnson City. The Eagles certainly played like they remembered it.
They outhustled and outscrapped the Bucs at every turn. They blocked 13 shots, a school record, and had 10 steals in winning their fifth straight game.
The Eagles threw in a little showtime for good measure, with alley-oops and behind-the-back passes leading to dunks. Sophomore point guard Brett Comer dished out a dozen of his team’s 19 assists.
“We reminded our guys about the last time,” said Eagles coach Andy Enfield. “They got 85 points against us and had 53 in the second half. We were much more aware on defense this time. I thought we played pretty well at both ends.”
Gulf Coast remains alone in first place in the conference at 9-3.The Eagles (17-8 overall) never finished better than 8-10 in their five previous years in the league, but they have a much different look in Enfield’s second season as coach.
“This is new territory for us,” he said, “but that’s what we play for. We just have to keep playing hard and see what happens. There are no guarantees.”
The Bucs, meanwhile, fell to 5-7 in the A-Sun and 7-18 overall. They play at Stetson on Saturday, and they’ll certainly need much better performances from their top scorers.
Jarvis Jones, coming off a career-high 36 points, led the Bucs with 12 on Thursday night. He went 4 of 19 from the field.
Lester Wilson scored just two on 1-for-9 shooting.
“We lost by 24, but it could have been 44,” said junior forward Hunter Harris, who had 10 points and seven rebounds for the Bucs. “They were just waiting on us, and we didn’t perform.”
Almost every Eagle had something positive on his ledger.
Sherwood Brown stuffed the stat sheet with 17 points, five rebounds, three blocked shots and three steals. The senior guard may very well be the player of the year in the conference, but he’s thinking about team goals.
“At this point, we don’t have to talk much about what has happened in the past,” said Brown. “We all know what happened against East Tennessee State up there, but we just had to stay focused and keep doing what we’ve been doing. This can be a special season for us.”
The Eagles also got 12 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots from Chase Fieler. Eric McKnight scored 13 points and altered a bunch of shots inside.
Gulf Coast is now 12-1 at home this season, and that includes a 63-51 win over No. 8 Miami. The Eagles have beaten the Bucs just three times in 12 games, but this one was a wire-to-wire job.
They used a 12-2 run late in the first half to take a 33-21 lead to the lockerroom. The Eagles then clicked off 12 straight points early in the second half to bury the Bucs.
The highlight was a blind, over-the-shoulder lob from Comer to Fieler, who dunked it home.
The Bucs went more than seven minutes without a score.
Moments later John Walton picked up a flagrant foul for elbowing Comer to the floor. Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard followed with a technical foul.
“That’s totally unacceptable and has to be cleaned up,” said Bartow.