Prime-time games for Buccaneers

JOHNSON CITY -- To take a couple of words from Bob Barker's hit game show "The Price is Right," the East Tennessee State men's basketball team is currently in-between a couple of showcase showdowns in Southern Conference play.
   And if the Bucs can play Tuesday night like they did in the first big matchup, the squad may just be heading towards a chance to win a fabulous prize.
   The Bucs defeated SoCon North Division leading Davidson 85-78 Saturday, and will look to continue their hot streak against second-place UNC-Greensboro Tuesday night in Memorial Center.
   ETSU's fortunes certainly have changed in the last two weeks. Just 16 days ago the Bucs had a 3-5 conference record, and it looked like a lost season.
   But since the loss at home to Chattanooga, the Bucs have won four straight Southern Conference games. And in those four games, the Bucs were very impressive.
   ETSU forward Jerald Fields realizes with the Bucs playing so well, things are going to get tougher.
   "I think with these big wins, people won't come out and try to take us as a joke," Fields said. "They're going to come out and play us real hard. I think we're showing people that we're ready to win the Southern Conference Tournament."
   The joke has been on VMI, Georgia Southern, Western Carolina and Davidson the last two weeks. In each game, an ETSU player has broken a career high. Fields did it against VMI, Ryan Lawson pulled the trick against Western, and Dimeco Childress managed to do it in the other two games.
   The Bucs have also been doing the little things right, like rebounding and free-throw shooting. The trips to the charity stripe made all the difference against Davidson, as the Bucs hit 39-of-42 free throws Saturday.
   Now the Bucs are looking to make it five straight Tuesday night against the defending Southern Conference Tournament champions. With the Bucs playing so well going into this game, talk about winning the SoCon Tournament has surfaced in Johnson City.
   The Bucs are playing very good basketball right now, but Lawson is just keeping his focus on the Spartans at the moment.
   "We're taking it one game at a time, just like the team last year did," Lawson said. "We're taking it one game at time, and if we do that I think we'll get the second seed in this division."
   Lawson brought up last year's team, and some comparisons can be drawn from the 2000-2001 squad. ETSU started last season 5-7 before winning 13 of its last 16 games to win the Southern Conference regular season crown.
   This team started out 10-9, but has now four straight very impressively. But according to Fields, he feels this year's start was even slower.
   "We started a little bit slower this year," Fields said. "It kind of reminds of last year, but we always talk about finishing strong at the end. Hopefully, we can end up in the championship at the end."
   That where last year's team looked to be heading towards, but the Bucs were upset by Georgia Southern in the Southern Conference Tournament quarterfinals.
   There are some differences between the two squads. Only Childress and Lawson were starters on that team. As a matter of fact, most of these guys saw limited action last year.
   But the current crop of ETSU players have picked up where last year's team left off, and could enter the SoCon Tournament as one of the favorites.
   ETSU head coach Ed DeChellis is proud of the team, but is keeping cool about calling them one of the favorites just yet.
   "We've got four more games to play," DeChellis said. "We lose all four and we won't be favored to do anything other than leaving early."
   But at the same time, DeChellis realizes how far this team has come in recent weeks.
   "I think this team has overcome a lot," DeChellis said. "We're 7-5 in the league. Three weeks ago we couldn't win on the road, and home games were a struggle. But this team gutted it out and did some great things."
   And the way the Bucs are playing right now, it looks like more great things are yet to come.