Bucs earn measure of respect despite loss to Cavs

By Matt Hill
STAR Staff

   The East Tennessee State Buccaneer basketball team's performance against Virginia can be compared to somebody finishing second in the Miss U.S.A. pageant. They looked good in defeat.
   The Bucs lost to the Cavaliers 85-62 Sunday afternoon in Charlottesville, but they have reason to hold their heads up high.
   ETSU won some respect on Sunday. I happened to find a Virginia message board on the internet Sunday night, and the Cavalier fans were raving about the Bucs.
   The Virginia fans were talking about how tough the Bucs were, and also said that ETSU is a well-coached team.
   The reason UVA fans were so high on ETSU was due to the fact the Bucs played them toe-to-toe throughout most of the first half, and the Bucs were still within striking distance until a second half run put the game out of reach.
   ETSU was only down 11 at halftime, which is pretty good considering Virginia was ranked 11th in the country going into Sunday's game.
   The biggest thing the Bucs can take from the Virginia game is the play of the youngsters. ETSU's top three scorers were freshmen or sophomores.
   Sophomores Jerald Fields and Zakee Wadood finished with 12 points each, while freshman sensation Tiras Wade ended up with 11.
   That's very encouraging for the Bucs when you consider that playing at UVA is about as tough as playing at Duke. These three were not intimidated by the surroundings.
   Fields' performance was very admirable, as the big man also had six rebounds and two blocks.
   Wade showed in the Virginia game that he can play with the big-time players. In two games so far, Wade is averaging 14.5 points per-contest.
   As for Wadood, he made a statement to the starters that he might be ready to move into the starting lineup.
   Despite losing by 23 points, the Buccaneers played some mean defense on Sunday. They held the Cavaliers to their 2000-2001 average of 85 points, and also forced 19 Virginia turnovers.
   Some people out there may think I'm crazy for praising the Bucs after a 23-point loss. But you have to remember who they were playing, and what happened the last time ETSU played a top-15 opponent.
   This Virginia squad returns four starters from a team that defeated eventual national champion Duke last season. And it was a much better outing for the Bucs than their humbling defeat against Tennessee last November.
   In that game against the Vols, the boys from Johnson City were totally blown away by Tennessee. It's too bad the Vols aren't on the schedule this year, because it would probably be a much different game.
   The Bucs have turned it around in the last year. They won the Southern Conference regular season championship in 2000-2001, and have three starters returning from that team.
   Going into this year, I thought the Bucs had a slight chance of winning the Southern Conference North Division. But after the Virginia performance, you have to say that the Bucs have a legitimate chance to repeat.
   The key right now might be getting the younger players more involved in the game, because at the moment they're outshining the veterans. Senior guards Cliff Decoster and Dimeco Childress combined for 3 points against the Cavaliers.
   That leaves players freshmen like Michael Toliver, James Anthony, Keeton Brooks and Wade waiting in the wings. It might be good to give them more minutes, because experience will only make them better.
   But at the same time, it would be unfair to count Childress and Decoster out yet. They were instrumental in leading the Bucs to the conference title a year ago.
   If the freshmen and sophomores continue to shine, and the older players get their act together, this could be a special season in Johnson City. The talent is definitely in place, and the coaching on this team is as good as you're going to find anywhere in the conference.
   The Bucs have their act together. And it looks they're going to be hard to handle for a long time.
   ETSU NOTES
   *The Bucs will be back in action again tonight at Virginia Commonwealth. Gametime is at 7:30.
   *ETSU is currently on a five-game road trip. After the VCU game, the Bucs will play at South Carolina on Nov. 26, at UNC-Asheville on Nov. 28, and at Coastal Carolina on Dec. 4.