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Bisons' bench play could be the difference down the stretch
Milos Kleut
Milos Kleut

Friday, February 18, 2011

Coach Scott Sanderson can usually count on starters Adnan Hodzic and Josh Slater to score in double figures, but it can’t always be a two-man show.

In Thursday night’s 71-52 win over USC Upstate 36 points for the Bisons were produced by non-starters. Guard Brandon Barnes led the way with 14 points, a game-high. Guard Jordan Burgason added 11 off of the bench.

“Brandon is just now starting to grasp how we want him to play and how he fits this team,” Sanderson said. “He understands his role better.

“We need him to defend. We need him to rebound. If he scores 14 points then that is gravy. He can score, but he doesn’t have to score on this team.”

While his role will change on next year’s team Barnes has learned what he can and can’t do on the court this season.

“He has figured out when to drive and when not to drive,” Sanderson said. “Earlier he just drove regardless.”

Sanderson knows Burgason, who has started 14 games this season and is averaging 10.4 points per game, is going to shoot the ball whether he starts or not.

“Jordan is going to get his shots,” Sanderson said. “Starting or not starting doesn’t affect him.”

Sanderson would be happy to see that same level of production from his reserves Saturday night when ETSU visits Allen Arena for a 6:30 p.m. game. It is the final home game of the regular season and is also “Senior Night” for Hodzic, Slater, Brandon Brown and Michael Teller.

The Bisons are 16-10 overall, 11-6 in the conference. ETSU, a 68-58 loser at Belmont Thursday night, is 19-10 overall, 14-4 in the A-Sun.

“ETSU is a big, physical athletic team,” Sanderson said. “That type of team gives us more problems than other teams.

“They guard you pretty good. They don’t have many guys that you don’t have to guard. You have to guard more of the floor. You have to be sound defensively and you have to rebound the basketball. Rebounding is going to be a key stat.”

The game will feature three of the top four scorers in the A-Sun. Hodzic is second with 18.2 points per game followed by ETSU’s Mike Smith in third with 17.4 points and Slater in fourth place with 15.8.

Also in double figures for ETSU are Micah Williams with 14.5, seventh best in the conference, and Isiah Brown with 10.3.

Hodzic is third in the A-Sun in rebounds with 7.2. Smith and Brown both average 7.1. They are rated fourth and fifth, respectively.

The Bisons are going to need a complete team effort to counter ETSU. And for Sanderson it is not so much how many points the bench players scored, but the way they played overall against Upstate.

“Brian Wright has been getting some reps,” Sanderson said. “He has always been a guy who can shoot it. He is getting healthier. Teams have to guard more of the floor when he is out there.”

Center Milos Kleut has become a key defensive player for the Bisons late in the season.

“The whole Upstate game was turned around in the middle of the first half when Milos went into the game,” Sanderson said. “Upstate turned the ball over four or five times in a row because of Milos and his defensive rotation. He scored four points but his value was unbelievable because of his defensive play. And the balls he doesn’t get he keeps alive.

“Our role guys have played well and helped our team. They are taking pressure off of our other guys. There is no question that we need them.”

Due to the success of the reserves Sanderson was able to cut down the playing time for some other players. Slater and Hodzic each played 27 minutes and guard Jacob Arnett played 26.

“After watching the film I thought our energy level was extremely high,” Sanderson said. “I thought a lot of it had to do with the fact we had fresher legs.

“We took the proper days off to get rest. I played more guys for fewer minutes. Being fresh is critical down the stretch.”

The Bisons close out the regular season with a trip to Kennesaw State Feb. 24 and a stop at Mercer in Macon, Ga., Feb. 26.

Written by Mark McGee, Senior Publisher/Director of Media Relations.