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Bucs set for rematch with Northern Kentucky

Joe Avento • Dec 5, 2017 at 4:38 PM

Less than a month ago, East Tennessee State’s basketball team opened the season with a decisive loss at Northern Kentucky. Seven games later, the Bucs get another shot at the Norse.

The two teams meet again Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Freedom Hall.

“I feel like it will be a good barometer for us to see where we are,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said.

Northern Kentucky took advantage of 20 ETSU turnovers in the opener to post an 81-63 victory in Highland Heights, Ketucky.

The Bucs (4-3) have spent the time since that game trying to figure out their identity and their rotation. Forbes might have come upon something in his team’s last outgoing when Bo Hodges and Andre Edwards helped ETSU win at Fordham. The 82-77 victory in the Bronx, New York, was a coming out party for both players who showed an ability to score, something the team had been lacking at times over the first six games.

With the 6-foot-4 Hodges — he plays much bigger — and the 6-foot-6 Edwards on the verge of getting more minutes, the team could have an entirely different look than the last time it played Northern Kentucky.

Edwards’ introduction

For Edwards, the playing time against Fordham was his first of the season and he responded with 11 points in 15 minutes.

Edwards hadn’t played earlier because Forbes said he “didn’t live up to the standards of ETSU basketball,” without going into details.

Now that Edwards has finally gotten onto the court, it’ll be tough to keep him off. The junior college transfer swished his first shot as a Bucs, a 3-pointer. He later made another and added a breakaway dunk. He also was disruptive on defense.

“He’s a tough matchup because he can make shots,” Forbes said. “He doesn’t have a lot of fear. He plays with no fear on offense. I think sometimes, a few of our guys play with, not fear, but without confidence. And he plays with confidence.”

Bo knows

While Edwards was seeing his first action, Hodges was seeing his most productive minutes. The freshman scored 20 points on an 8-of-10 shooting night and grabbed eight rebounds. He mostly scored at the rim and added a couple of mid-range jumpers to show how his game has developed just seven games into his college career.

“Bo’s a real talented guy, he’s got a really good basketball IQ,” Forbes said. “I don’t think he’s afraid of the moment. The game is starting to slow down for him. He can play inside and outside. I think he’s going to be a special player down the road.”

Senior guard Desonta Bradford, who led the Bucs with 22 points and nine rebounds, was genuinely excited about Hodges’ performance.

“Shout out to Bo!,” Bradford said, pointing out that Hodges had been a two-time Mr. Basketball in Tennessee. It was interesting to hear Bradford use the Mr. Basketball reference. Hodges has been the Class AA player of the year the past two years. Bradford won the award in Class A four years earlier.

Small lineup plays big

Th Bucs did much of their damage against Fordham with what could be called five guards on the court. Hodges and Edwards were also spearheading ETSU’s inside defense because Forbes was worried his two big men, Mladen Armus and Peter Jurkin, couldn’t defend Fordham’s bigs after the Rams centers made their team’s first three 3-pointers. Armus and Jurkin barely played in the second half.

There might not be anything Forbes dislikes more than seeing the opposition’s big men stepping out and swishing unguarded 3-pointers.

That was one way Northern Kentucky beat the Bucs in the opener. Drew McDonald, the Norse’s big man, made four 3-pointers.

“It comes down to you can be hard-headed and play your way and then you’re going to be frustrated,” Forbes said. “But you can’t guard them that way.”

Scouting the Norse

Northern Kentucky comes in 6-2 and one of the losses was a two-point setback against Memphis.

McDonald, who scored 22 points against ETSU the first time around, matched that total in an 86-49 romp over Morehead State this past weekend. His team-high average of 15.0 points per game is followed closely by Lavone Holland’s 14.5.

Some time off

The Bucs got two days off after the Fordham game while their coaches hit the recruiting trail. Forbes spent the day after the Fordham game in New York City recruiting. He was in North Carolina on Friday before heading home.

The team resumed practice Saturday. “They needed a little rest,” Forbes said.

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