Bucs reach tournament at full speed

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   JOHNSON CITY -- Riding an eight-game winning streak into the Mountain Dew Southern Conference Tournament, the East Tennessee State Buccaneers are as confident about avoiding a quarterfinal upset as the most beautiful girl in the class is about not getting stood up.
   The SoCon North Division tri-champs are very confident about their chances in Charleston, but the Bucs' 8:30 tip-off Friday night at the North Charleston Coliseum may not be easy.
   The Bucs, who are the second-seed out of the North Division, will play the winner of the Thursday afternoon's College of Charleston-Appalachian State game.
   Appalachian gave ETSU fits Saturday before pulling out a 79-72 victory, but it's the Cougars that might be the team the Bucs want to avoid.
   College of Charleston will be playing practically at home in this tournament, and have already defeated the Bucs in Charleston once this season.
   But ETSU head coach Ed DeChellis said the Bucs are used to tough draws.
   "We had a tough draw last year," DeChellis said. "Were focusing on one game at a time. We're preparing for both teams."
   The Bucs will have revenge on their minds. ETSU was the top-seeded team from the North Division in last year's tournament, but was ousted in the first round by Georgia Southern.
   "I think our team last year played tight," DeChellis said. "I'll look back on our preparation and see what we did. Last year against Georgia Southern we got beat because we made some horrendous decisions at really critical times.
   "We were up 10 with six minutes to go, and Adrian Meeks gets hurt. We take a bad shot, we foul a guy shooting a three, and of all of a sudden they make three-straight three-point plays and they're right back in the game. Then we choked down the stretch."
   While DeChellis still painfully remembers that night in the upstate of South Carolina, he believes this team is very focused on what it wants to accomplish.
   "This team is focused," DeChellis said. "This team wants to win. I think this league is as good as its ever been, you don't win eight-straight games if you weren't determined to do so."
   Another first-game defeat is not expected by Childress.
   "It won't happen this year," Childress said. "We're going to come out and we're going to do what we have to do. They're won't be any surprises this year."
   DeChellis believes this team is very confident, and will just try to do the same things that have been done in the long winning streak.
   "We're very confident," DeChellis said. "We're going to try to continue to play well. I just think we're going to try and do the same things."
   The Bucs are having a lot of people step up. Childress, Zakee Wadood, Jerald Fields, Ryan Lawson, and Tiras Wade are all scoring in double figures in conference action.
   ETSU went through one stretch during the season where it had four straight games where players broke their own career highs.
   "We've had guys make big shots or big free-throws or big defensive plays or get a big rebound," DeChellis said. "That's really the key to why we've done pretty well."
   Childress leads the Bucs in scoring during SoCon games with 18.9 points per-game, while Wadood and Fields are averaging 10.2 and 7.2 rebounds per-game, respectively.
   One problem the Bucs might run into is lack of depth. After the starting five, the ETSU playing time gets pretty thin.
   DeChellis is hoping players like James Anthony, Isaac Potter and Shannon Huffstetler can step up during this time.
   "We need kids to rise to the occasion," DeChellis said. "The bench needs to play better, but I can't control that."
   Overall, DeChellis his team will be ready by Friday to make a run at earning the Southern Conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
   "I think we'll be ready to play," DeChellis said. "I think we'll be fine."
   ETSU NOTES:
   *Friday night's game will be televised by WKPT-TV. Friday's afternoon's session will be carried by CSS. (Channel 28 in Elizabethton.) Saturday's men and women's semifinals will also be broadcasted by CSS, with Sunday night's championship game being televised by ESPN.