It was a dream season for East Tennessee State basketball in 2000-01. The Bucs treated the Tri-Cities community to the most successful season in recent history, highlighted by their first-ever Southern Conference North Division Championship. ETSU finished the regular-season at 13-3 in SoCon action, the best mark of any conference member.
Led by fifth-year head coach Ed DeChellis, the Bucs finished the season 18-10 overall, the most wins during the DeChellis era. The 2001 Southern Conference Coach of the Year, DeChellis was instrumental in combining talented veterans with six quality freshmen to form a team worthy of postseason play.
Junior Dimeco Childress led the Bucs in scoring throughout the season. He continually made key buckets and scored a career-high 30 points against Vanderbilt, earning Southern Conference Player-of-the-Week honors. The Columbia, Tenn. native, earned All-Southern Conference honors as voted by the leagues coaches.
After a season-opening 23-point home win against Lynchburg, the Bucs faced a tall order in Knoxville. The nationally-ranked Tennessee Volunteers outgunned ETSU, 102-76, but the Bucs outscored the Vols 48-47 in the second half. The toughest stretch of the season ensued, with losses to Virginia Commonwealth, at Vanderbilt and against UNC Asheville. At 1-4, it was time for the Bucs to regroup.
ETSU accepted the challenge and turned their season around on a snowy day in Morehead, Ky. ETSU and Morehead State traded leads throughout regulation but the Eagles were ahead by two with 13 seconds to play. Childress received an inbound pass, stepped behind the three-point arc and drained a jumper to give the Bucs a one-point lead. The Eagles stormed down the court but a last-second layup was snuffed by Childress and senior Renaldo Johnson, giving the Bucs a spirited come-from-behind victory.
Freshman Jerald Fields went 4-4 from the field in his first collegiate game. From that point on, ETSU went 17-6 when Fields was in the lineup. Sophomore Ryan Lawson recorded a career-high 20 points on a career-best seven field goals.
A confident ETSU squad returned home to face Warren Wilson College. The Bucs trounced the visiting Owls by 68 points, the largest marring of victory in program history. ETSU converted a season-high 57.1 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from behind the arc.
Thinking they had righted the ship, the Bucs encountered two important non-conference road games, at Radford and at Virginia Tech. What could have been their first chance to climb above the .500 mark turned into two heartbreaking losses. Leading by six points at the half, ETSU fell apart in the second half, losing by two at Radford. The despair continued with a six-point overtime loss at Big East member, Virginia Tech. The Bucs opened the game on fire, leading 13-2 before succumbing to a five-point halftime deficit. Seniors D.J. McDuffie and Adrian Meeks both scored 16 points but could not overtake the Hokies as they had in each of the last two seasons.
The Mini-Dome served as the perfect remedy as the Bucs returned to their winning ways, defeating Ferrum, 109-68. It marked the first time since the 1993-94 season that a Buccaneer team had eclipsed the 100-point mark twice in a season. Sophomore Isaac Potter and freshman Zakee Wadood both tied a career-high with 10 points. The Bucs then traveled to Harrisonburg, Va. to play Colonial Athletic Association member, James Madison, in the Bucs final non-conference game of the season. Fields led ETSU with 18 points and eight rebounds in his finest game of the season to lead the Bucs to victory.
The Southern Conference slate began with a disappointing nine-point loss at Chattanooga. At a low point of the season, the Bucs couldnt have known that this loss would springboard them to a seven-game win streak -- the longest under head coach Ed DeChellis.
The streak began with a convincing 85-69 home win against The Citadel. ETSU prevailed in a game marred by fouls (69) and free throws (93). The Bulldogs did not register their first two-point basket until the second half. ETSU next captured a four-point win at Davidson and a seven-point decision at Western Carolina. The wins advanced the Bucs to 2-0 against North Division teams.
ETSU returned home for wins against Appalachian State and Furman. Meeks notched his first double-double of the season with 12 points and 11 boards against the Paladins. The Bucs won their sixth straight, this time in a rowdy Cameron Hall, 74-60, against VMI. Junior Cliff Decoster tallied 19 points and a career-high seven steals.
All five Buccaneer starters scored in double figures to lead ETSU in a 72-67 win at Appalachian State. It was ETSUs first win in Boone, N.C. since the 1993-94 season and first regular-season sweep of the Mountaineers since the same season.
After winning four straight road games, the Bucs next traveled to Greensboro, N.C. to face the Spartans in a battle for the North Division lead. Despite a double-double from Johnson (16 points, 10 rebounds), the Bucs lost 77-67.
Five days later, the Bucs took out their frustrations on Western Carolina, drubbing the Catamounts 98-47 in Memorial Center. The 51-point margin was the largest in ETSUs Southern Conference history. Western Carolina shot just 25.5 percent from the field and 19.0 percent from 3-pt. range. Freshman Sam Oatman tied a career high with six assists.
One of the most anticipated home games in recent history took place on February 6. The College of Charleston Cougars brought regional television to the Mini-Dome for a battle between the South and North Division leaders. ETSU led from start to finish in a 62-47 win. The game was close until Childress recorded eight consecutive points late in the game. The 47 points was the fewest by the Cougars in 110 games. In a game featuring the two best rebounding teams in the SoCon, the Bucs outrebounded their counterparts, 43-22.
Following their biggest win of the season, ETSU suffered its most thorough defeat. The highly confident Bucs traveled to Statesboro and were handed a 98-79 loss at the hands of Georgia Southern. The athletic Eagles posed severe match-up problems for the Bucs. Georgia Southern shot an unbelievable 85.7 (6-7) from behind the arc in the second half to separate from the visitors.
The Bucs were forced to gather themselves in preparation for their final four games of the season, including three straight at home. The stretch began with an 84-75 redemption win against UNC Greensboro. The win put the Bucs atop the North Division standings, a lead they would not relinquish. Double-digit wins against Davidson and VMI completed the Bucs home slate. ETSU went 11-2 in Memorial Center, a perfect 8-0 during conference action.
Next on the docket was the second game against VMI, in which Decoster continued his dominance of the Keydets. He scored a career-high 22 points on 10 field goals.
The regular season finale was one of the most exciting games of the season. ETSU had the privilege of facing Wofford in senior Ian Chadwicks final home game. The senior poured in 21 points, three on free throws with three seconds to play, that tied the game 65-65. In the closing seconds, Johnson unleashed a laser pass to Childress at midcourt where the guard was fouled. Childress cooly sunk the first free throw and intentionally missed the second to seal the win.
With a Charleston loss earlier in the day, ETSU clinched the best record in the conference. The No. 1 seed from the North Division, ETSU drew a second-round game against the winner of the VMI/Georgia Southern contest in the 2001 Mountain Dew/Southern Conference Tournament.
Georgia Southern handled the Keydets and looked to capture its second win of the season from the SoCon Champs. The Eagles outplayed the Bucs in the first half, leading 35-29 at the break. Coach DeChellis rallied the team at halftime and the Bucs charged out in the second half, taking a lead with 10 minutes to play. Georgia Southern nailed two treys to pull within four and eventually took over the game. ETSU went cold over the last 10 minutes and watched the game slip away.
Although the 2000-01 campaign ended in a disappointing loss, the coaching staff and players are commended for all they accomplished. Picked to finish fourth in the preseason polls, the Bucs achieved more than anyone expected. The three graduating seniors will be sorely missed but the freshmen class improved throughout the season and will propel the Bucs to more success in the near future.