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Bucs set for challenging road opener

Joe Avento • Updated Nov 9, 2017 at 2:22 PM

The East Tennessee State basketball team certainly isn’t easing into its schedule for the coming season.

The Bucs open Friday night at Northern Kentucky, and the game is expected to be one of the stiffer tests ETSU faces all season. The Norse are the defending Horizon League champions and stayed with Kentucky in the NCAA tournament last March.

“This is the hardest opener we’ve had since I’ve been here,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said. “We’re going to play an NCAA tournament team on their home court and they have a lot of guys back. It’s going to be a really tough test.”

Forbes is bringing a battle-tested group to the 7 p.m. opener at 9,400-seat BB&T Arena in Highland Heights, Kentucky, a suburb of Cincinnati.

“I know we lost some really good players, but the guys we have played in some big games last year, some big situations,” Forbes said.

ETSU is coming off a 27-8 season and a Southern Conference championship.

Scouting the Norse

Drew McDonald was the Horizon League’s preseason player of the year. The 6-foot-7, 250-pound junior was a first-team all-conference pick last season when he averaged 16.4 points per game.

McDonald scored 17 points, on 7-for-11 shooting, in an exhibition victory over Urbana College.

Guard Lavone Holland was a second-team All-Horizon preseason pick. He averaged 14.5 points a game last year.

Northern Kentucky is ranked 11th in the preseason CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top-25. The team went 24-11 overall last year and won the Horizon League tournament. That got them into the NCAA tournament in their first year eligible after reclassifying from Division II. They lost to Kentucky, 79-70, as a 15th-seed.

The Norse return 77 percent of their offense.

Senior day

Every day might be senior day for the Bucs, who will start five seniors. Among them is Peter Jurkin, a 7-footer who was granted a sixth year by the NCAA.

Desonta Bradford will be running the show for ETSU, and as his performance could determine the fate of the team.

“We have a bunch of unselfish guys, guys willing to put the team first to get to where we want to be, and that’s win another championship,” Bradford said. “I feel like I can lead this team back to the NCAA tournament.”

Familiar foe

ETSU and Northern Kentucky were both part of the Atlantic Sun Conference for two years. They met four times, with the Bucs winning three of the games.

Chance to scout?

Cincinnati is using Northern Kentucky’s arena this season while its own facility undergoes renovations. The Bearcats are playing host to Savannah State on Friday at noon. That’s the same Savannah State team ETSU faces on the road on Monday night.

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