Bucs defuse Dennis-led Bombers

By Jeff Birchfield

STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   After leading by only nine at the half, East Tennessee State pulled away in the second half to top the Charleston AAU Bombers 96-72 in an exhibition game Thursday night in Memorial Center.
   "It was a real tough game for us to play as there was a lot of zone," said Buccaneer head coach Ed DeChellis. "Our guys were kind of standing around a little bit in the first half, but I thought we shot the ball extremely well.
   "I was really pleased as a coach with the play of our point guards, Sam Oatman and Tim Smith."
   The win overshadowed the homecoming of Charleston player Greg Dennis, the star center on Buccaneer teams in late 80's and early 90's that won four straight Southern Conference titles.
   "I enjoyed it," said Dennis, whose full-time job is as a consultant with Nationwide Securities in Charleston. "I appreciate Coach DeChellis letting me come back and play. I wish things would have come out a little better this trip, but we were competitive in the first half. I like having a place to play at my stage of life."
   Charleston AAU, a touring team comprised of ex-collegiate and prep players, actually took a 18-17 lead from their younger opponents at the 12:29 mark of the first half on a three-point goal by Daniel Hicks.
   They padded their lead up to six after another trey by Wayne Casey before the Bucs stormed back on a 9-0 run to reclaim the advantage. It remained close until right before the end of the half when Zakee Wadood's shot behind the arc spurred ETSU on to their halftime lead. Wadood was a solid performer for the Bucs putting up 14 points in 19 minutes.
   It was a measure of personal validation for Wadood, who chose to stay in Johnson City during the summer to train instead of returning home to Arkansas. "Me and Jerald (Fields) and Brad (Nuckles) did some offseason running and I think it's paying off," said Wadood. "We've been practicing to stay in shape.
   "I stayed up here all summer going to classes and working out as well as trying to work on ball handling and shooting. I was just looking at anything where I could improve. I didn't know how tonight would turn out, but I was pleased with what I did."
   In the second half, fatigue set in on the outmanned Bombers, who had a rotation of only six players and the Bucs cruised to the easy win. This allowed plenty of playing time for the incoming freshmen and other younger players on the ETSU roster.
   "I thought the play of the young guys was very positive," said DeChellis. "James Anthony played well as did Tiras Wade. We got to see what we needed to as a coaching staff out of them tonight. I hope we will be able to go to different guys to help us score some points. Our young guys were tight, but that's why we do this, to get them out on the court with the lights on and fans in the stands."
   Among those young players feeling nervous was local product Nuckles, a 6-9, 245-pound freshman. A small, but very vocal contingent cheered Nuckles' entrance on the floor.
   "Someone told me there were 25 to 30 people from my hometown," said Nuckles. "It's great knowing that I'm going to have fan support when I do get to play. I was really nervous before the game started.
   "The fans didn't really add to it. It was just playing in my first college game and getting use to a whole different level of play. It was great having the fan support. It's good having Jerald and Zakee to learn from and play behind. I'm not expected to come in here and score 10 to 15 points every game."
   Overall, the Bucs were led by Wade's 16 points, Wadood's 14 and Anthony's 14. Freshman point guard Smith also posted double figures with 10 points, while leading the team with nine rebounds.
   For the Bombers, long range gunners Jarred West with 27 and Casey with 19 led their efforts. Dennis ended up with only four points, but was a defensive stalwart posting a game-high five blocked shots and a team high nine boards.
   The loss dropped Charleston AAU to 3-2 in play against collegiate teams.
   Regular season play for ETSU, winners of two straight Southern Conference North Division titles, begins next Friday when they host Guilford College at 7:30 p.m.