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Bucs looking to keep road streak alive

JOE AVENTO • Jan 8, 2007 at 10:57 AM

JOHNSON CITY - East Tennessee State's road show continues tonight at the smallest gym in the Atlantic Sun Conference.

The Bucs (10-7, 4-1 Atlantic Sun Conference) are disproving the notion that it's difficult to win basketball games on the road, having won all three of their league away games. They're looking to keep that streak alive today at Campbell's tiny Carter Gym.

The Camels (7-6, 2-1) are 6-0 this year in the 54-year-old facility, the second-smallest arena in Division I with a seating capacity of 947. Only Charleston Southern's gym (798) is smaller.

"I like the small gym," ETSU forward Brad Nuckles said. "It's loud and makes for a fun atmosphere."

While the Camels' arena is small, their point totals have been anything but. They finished last season second in the nation in scoring and are at it again.

Led by freshman Jonathan Rodriguez, Campbell is averaging 85 points a game, 12 more than anybody else in the conference, and has broken 100 three times this season.

"What's obvious with Campbell is that they can score," ETSU coach Murry Bartow said. "They're a high-octane team that can go for a hundred quick, and you have to find a way to keep up with them. We're hoping we can do a few things defensively to slow them down."

Rodriguez, a 6-foot-5, 200-pound forward, is averaging 17.0 points and 8.3 rebounds a game. He's second in the A-Sun in scoring to Mercer's James Florence, and third in rebounding.

"Jonathan Rodriguez is putting up some incredible numbers, and they have their guards back," Bartow said. "There's just a lot of offense there, and they really feed off their home crowd. It's a hard place to play."

Senior Eric Smith averages 12.8 points a game, while junior Ruell Pringle (12.1), senior Ledell Eackles (9.3) and junior Reggie Bishop (8.4) also contribute. All four are guards.

ETSU is coming off its third nail-biter in a row, a 66-63 win at Gardner-Webb on Sunday. The Bucs were down 12 in the second half before coming back to win.

Nuckles, who had been ineffective for several games, scored a career-high 31 points against the Bulldogs.

He had totaled 34 points in ETSU's previous seven games and was coming off a scoreless outing.

Nuckles had 22 rebounds in last year's game at Campbell.

With Nuckles dominating inside against Gardner-Webb, the Bucs didn't need much offense from Andrew Reed and Eryk Thomas, who had been key cogs in the team's recent surge. Reed played only 12 minutes and Thomas 20 as ETSU went with a smaller lineup in the second half.

Freshman point guard Dequan Twilley, whose last-second 3-pointer gave the Bucs an overtime victory against Lipscomb last week, made two free throws in the closing seconds to seal the win over Gardner-Webb.

"Dequan is the guy that in the state tournament had 31 in the championship game," Bartow said. "We said it over and over as we recruited him, that he's just an icy kid. He could have 30 in a game and you wouldn't see him smile. He's very mellow, very cool and very calm."

After tonight's game, North Florida comes to town Saturday when the Bucs begin a three-game homestand that also includes games against Jacksonville (Jan. 15) and Kennesaw State (Jan. 19).

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