Bucs best Quakers

By Jeff Birchfield

STAR STAFF

   JOHNSON CITY -- East Tennessee State used a 24-4 run late in the game to pull away from Guilford College in a season-opening 90-61 win Friday night at Brooks Gym.
   Although better athletically than in years past, the 2001-02 version of the Bucs had more trouble than expected in the first part of the contest as they were leading only 44-37 at halftime.
   "I really wasn't happy the first half with the way we guarded," said ETSU head coach Ed DeChellis. "We just didn't guard well. The second half we kind of picked it up and guarded better. We had a stretch of five or six minutes of what we wanted to do.
   "We got some turnovers and ran them back. I thought our young players and our bench played extremely well. We just didn't do some things fundamentally, we need to be doing."
   Added Quaker head coach Butch Estes, "I thought particularly in the first half, we were about to stick in there. We made shots, played hard and switched defenses to keep them out of sync. Eventually, the second half we weren't able to stop them in transition. They are big and quick and athletic. Obviously, we won't face another team that good in our league."
   Freshman Tiras Wade scored 18 points to lead ETSU offensively. He talked about being one of four players from the Tampa, Florida area on the Buccaneer roster, dubbed the "Tampa Connection".
   "We did pretty good, but we could have done better," said Wade. "It's not just the Tampa Connection anymore, we're a team now. Tampa did do OK. We talked about that, that we were going to do our job not to let these guys down. The older guys are looking for us to do a lot of stuff as freshmen."
   Sophomore Jerald Fields was the all-around leader for the Blue and Gold. The 6-6, 240 lb. forward had a tremendous effort with 15 points, 10 rebounds and six blocked shots.
   "It has helped a lot," remarked Fields about having a year of experience. "I got to see how different things are from high school to the college game. I got to play a lot last year, but I want to do real well this year.
   "We came out kind of shaky the first half on defense. We wanted to come out and make a statement in the second half. We can't do that most of the other games, we're going to have to play the whole game hard."
   The Bucs jumped out to an early 4-0 lead when Fields posted up in the paint and hit a turnaround jumper and then Cliff Decoster hit a runner in the lane. Guilford countered by reeling off eight straight points showing the Bucs they were in for a fight.
   Vermont transfer Michael Tolliver, who only recently had been cleared to play this season, came into the game at 13:15 of the first half and gave ETSU a needed boost with good play at the point guard and two guard slots.
   The teams exchanged the lead on six occasions in the first 14 minutes before the Bucs finally took the lead for good on a lay-up by Issac Potter and a trey by Wade to put the score at 24-20. Guilford still would not collapse with ETSU's first double-digit lead not coming until 17:54 of the second half on a jumper by Fields.
   The Quakers kept the game within reach until Dimeco Childress made a dive to the floor for a steal. His hustle sparked a fast break culminating with a lay-up by Potter. It was the beginning of the Buc onslaught.
   "I looked up and it was about a 12-point game," commented Estes, a former player for Dean Smith at North Carolina. "And then, it just blows out in the last few minutes. Their size, especially at the guards, really affected us. We couldn't get in our offense the way we wanted to because of their pressure. Athletically, they're even stronger than the team we saw on tape from last year."
   Senior guard Decoster had 13 points and talked of the Bucs' improved effort in the second half. "I think we proved a whole lot," stated Decoster. "We have some guys that make our team faster. Coach gave us an ear full at halftime telling us we didn't play defense as well as we could. We made a conscience effort the second half to come out hard.
   "As the games and years go by, I'm getting more comfortable at point guard. It's a difficult position to play. I've got accustomed to it and I want to have a good senior year."
   Added DeChellis, "The two older guards have to get things straightened out. They're seniors and they know better. They need to take their game for the whole 55 minutes. If they don't do it, then we're relying on young kids to do it."
   Childress had 10 points for ETSU, Potter had nine, while Ryan Lawson and Zakee Wadood each added eight in the winning effort.
   The game overshadowed a career night for the Quakers' Jevon Clarke, whose 20 points doubled his previous career high. Josh Connor with 12 and Paul Kindem with 11 were the other double-digit scorers for Guilford. The Division III school's next game is tomorrow night at Atlanta Christian.
   Next up for ETSU (1-0) is today's contest at Virginia, where they face the 11th-ranked team in the nation. However, the players and coach both expressed confidence in facing the Cavaliers.
   "It's upset time," Wade commented. "We aren't going in there to look good, just to play. We feel that we can run with anybody and we want to prove great things. If we want to be in the NCAA tournament, we have to play teams like Virginia. This game means a lot to me and the team.
   "It happens every year. Every year you hear of upsets. We want to go out there and prove a point. We want to be an ETSU ballclub like the old days. We want to bring that back to Johnson City."
   Said DeChellis, "There's a reason Virginia is No. 11 in the country, because they're very talented. It's a great opportunity for us to go up there and play. The speed of the game will be completely different. I hope this was a wake-up call for us tonight. We really need to concentrate and defend hard.
   "We're going to talk about Western Kentucky beating Kentucky and Eastern Washington beating St. Joe's. Early in college basketball, anything can happen. We're going in there with the attitude that we can compete and hopefully get something done."
   Tip-off for the Virginia game is 2:00 p.m. and it can be heard locally on the Buccaneer Radio Network.