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Deep Bucs put nine-game winning streak on the line against Western Carolina

Joe Avento • Jan 19, 2018 at 7:29 PM

The East Tennessee State basketball team is on quite a roll and Bucs coach Steve Forbes says the credit deserves to be shared up and down the entire roster.

Forbes has looked like a kid putting together a jigsaw puzzle at times. He has a deep roster at his disposal and putting those pieces together is his job each night. He’s been fitting everything into the right slot for more than a month.

When Western Carolina comes to Freedom Hall on Saturday for a 4 p.m. Southern Conference game, the Bucs will put a nine-game winning streak on the line. Forbes says his team’s depth — and the accompanying versatility — is the main reason ETSU hasn’t lost since blowing a 22-point lead at Xavier on Dec. 16.

“We’re not a one-man show and we’re not a two-man show,” Forbes says. “Our best thing is the sum of our parts. We’re playing with a lot of confidence. They believe in each other. We’re a team.”

With 11 players averaging over 11 minutes per game, the Bucs are certainly sharing the wealth. They’re 15-4 overall and alone in first place in the SoCon at 6-0.

“I trust them all,” Forbes says. “I really believe our depth works to our advantage.”

Western Carolina will bring a dangerous team into the game. The Catamounts are 4-2 in the SoCon with a win over Mercer to their credit.

“They’re always tough and physical,” said Forbes, whose team is coming off a 62-61 victory over Furman. “We’ll have to be ready to go on a short turnaround. I told the team that. I said ‘You have to be ready to play or they’ll come and beat us.’ ”

The Bucs have won 21 of the last 22 games in the series. The lone loss during that span came in the 2015 SoCon tournament, Murry Bartow’s final game as ETSU’s coach.

SCOUTING WESTERN CAROLINA

The Catamounts come in 8-10 overall. In league play, they’ve lost to Samford and UNC Greensboro and are coming off a 65-58 victory over VMI. They’ve had a week to prepare for the Bucs.

Mike Aimius, a 6-foot-7 junior college transfer, averages 12.5 points and 5.5 rebounds a game to lead the Catamounts. Sixth-year senior Deriece Parks averages 10.1 points.

Matt Halvorsen, a 6-foot-1 freshman from Kingsport who played at Christ School in Asheville, North Carolina, has started 15 games and is averaging 8.8 points.

Western Carolina coach Larry Hunter has been in Cullowhee since 2005 and he has an overall record as a head coach of 697-444. He’s the ninth-winningest active coach in the country.

“I respect Larry Hunter,” Forbes said. “He’s a veteran coach and I think he’s got a good team.”

FAMILY TIES

When you hear Haboubacar Mutombo’s name announced as he comes into the game for the Catamounts, you might be reminded of his famous relative. Dikembe Mutombo, a feared shot-blocker for a long time in the NBA, is his uncle.

While the 7-foot-2 Dikembe ranks second in NBA history with 1,196 blocked shots in 18 seasons — and a signature finger-wag at his victims — Haboubacar brings a different game to the court. The 6-foot-5 senior shooting guard has blocked one shot this season.

Haboubacar’s brother, Harouna, was the Catamounts’ leading scorer in 2009 and was the SoCon’s freshman of the year.

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