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Bucs expect another challenge at Samford

Joe Avento • Jan 3, 2018 at 5:10 PM

As the East Tennessee State basketball team prepares for the second game of a three-game road swing to begin Southern Conference play, head coach Steve Forbes knows what to expect.

When the Bucs and Samford meet on the basketball court, a close game usually ensues. The two teams square off Thursday at 8 p.m. at the Pete Hannah Center in Birmingham, Alabama.

“All of our games with them have been tough,” Forbes said.

How tough?

Forbes is 5-0 against the Bulldogs, and in four regular-season games his team’s average margin of victory has been five points. And that counts a 10-point victory at Samford last year, a game that went into double overtime.

ETSU’s most comfortable victory over Samford in the Forbes’ era came in last year’s Southern Conference tournament when the Bucs won 81-72. It took T.J. Cromer’s 41-point effort — remember, he was 9 of 12 on 3-pointers — to pull that one off.

“I’m pretty sure it will be a hard game,” Forbes said.

The Bucs come in on a roll, having won eight of their last nine games to improve to 10-4. A 19-point New Year’s Eve victory at Mercer, a team the Southern Conference coaches picked to win the league, opened some eyes around the league.

“We’ve got some confidence,” Forbes said. “We’re doing some good things and playing with a lot of confidence.”

Scouting Samford

The Bulldogs were picked second in the preseason SoCon polls with a solid and experienced nucleus returning from last year. Injuries have set the team back as five players have missed games.

The biggest loss has been Wyatt Walker, an imposing inside presence who has been limited to two games by a knee injury. The result has been a 5-9 overall record against a tough schedule that has included games against Arkansas, LSU, Memphis and Clemson. They’re 5-1 at home and opened the SoCon season with a 73-56 victory against UT-Chattanooga.

“They play a style of play that’s different,” Forbes said. “They press and play zone. They have a couple of different presses they use. We’re going to have to take care of the basketball and make shots against the zone.”

Demetrius Denzel-Dyson leads the Bulldogs, averaging 14.6 points per game. Alabama transfer Justin Coleman scored 28 points against UT-Chattanooga.

Defense never rests

Forbes has preached defense since he arrived in Johnson City. “Defense always travels,” he says.

This year’s Bucs have taken that to heart. They’re on a winning streak thanks, in part, to holding opponents to 41.5 percent shooting. That’s tied for the best in the SoCon with UNC Greensboro. They also lead the league in blocked shots and are third in steals.

“Our defense has been pretty good,” Forbes said. “I think we’ve been pretty good all year and I think we’re getting better as we get more game experience playing together. They’ve done a really good job in putting the scouting report into games.”

Mid-major polls

The Bucs’ hot streak has gained them some national attention. They’re No. 8 in NBC Sports Midseason Mid-Major Power Rankings and 16th in the CollegeInside.com Mid-Major poll.

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