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With chance to clinch, ETSU denied by Wofford

Joe Avento • Updated Feb 24, 2018 at 5:28 AM

Clinching is becoming increasingly more difficult for the East Tennessee State basketball team.

With a chance to ensure at least a share of the Southern Conference regular-season championship, the Bucs lost at home for the second time this week. Wofford did the trick this time, beating ETSU 75-71 Friday night in front of a sellout crowd at Freedom Hall.

It was the third loss in four games for the Bucs, who fell to 23-7 overall, 14-3 in the SoCon. They dropped into a tie for first place with UNC Greensboro, which holds the tiebreaker should they finish that way.

“Talk about making it hard on ourself,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said. “We still have a chance to win the league title, which we have to stay focused on.”

Cameron Jackson scored 18 points to lead Wofford, which improved to 20-10, 11-6.

Neither team led by more than five points all night and ETSU’s Desonta Bradford scored on a drive with 20 seconds left, leaving the Terriers ahead 72-71. Wofford’s Trevor Stumpe connected on one of two free throws to make it 73-71, giving the Bucs a chance to tie.

They worked the ball inside to David Burrell, who went up and missed a shot right near the rim. Wofford’s Fletcher Magee wound up with the ball, got fouled and made both free throws for what turned out to be the final margin.

“We had a chance to tie and send it to overtime and we didn’t finish,” Forbes said.

Moments earlier, Bradford made a steal and fed Burrell, who was fouled while making a layup. The free throw tied the game at 66 with 3:27 remaining. Storm Murphy put Wofford back ahead 68-66 with a gutsy drive at the 2:42 mark.

Forbes wouldn’t criticize the officials, but on a night when fans received a bobblehead of the ETSU coach, he grabbed his dome in frustration when Jermaine Long was called for a foul after he stepped over a fallen Magee and had a clear path for a layup.

Magee made the free throws, and the four-point swing put Wofford up 70-66 with 2:10 left.

“Tough call,” Forbes said. “I’ll have to watch it, but initially I thought it really was going to be our ball and two free throws. I was even asking for an intentional.”

Magee finished with 17 points, but the leading 3-point shooter in the nation — nobody has made more this season — went 1 for 6 from long range.

The Terriers shot 56 percent, making only eight from 3-point range. A lot of that was due to Jackson, who went 9 for 15 and was unstoppable any time he got the ball in the post.

“That kid is terrific,” Wofford coach Mike Young said. “We thought that would be a very difficult matchup. We wanted to try to establish that right away. He’s a hoss, now.”

BRADFORD’S RETURN

Bradford, who missed the Bucs’ last game with an ankle sprain, scored 19 points in his return. He was 4 for 5 from the field and went 10 for 14 from the foul line.

He shook his head when asked what’s different between the Bucs now and when they were on their 16-game winning streak.

“I think we got away from what we were doing in the beginning,” he said. “We have to come together and return to the hungry team we were. We got away from defending these last couple weeks. We have to get back to being really good defensively.”

BY THE NUMBERS

Freshman Bo Hodges had 16 points for ETSU, while Peter Jurkin had 11 points and eight rebounds.

For Wofford, Nathan Hoover had 13 points and Murphy finished with 12.

UNLIKELY HERO

Magee made the crowd of 6,005 temporarily happy in the first half when he missed a pair of free throws. All season, ETSU has been running a promotion where fans receive a free Chick-fil-A sandwich if an opponent misses two free throws.

Magee came into the game shooting 92 percent from the line, ranking fourth in the country, and was the unlikeliest player to win the chicken.

ETSU officials report it was the fifth time this season the prize had been awarded.

Wofford came in as the top free throw shooting team in the SoCon and missed its first five tries.

NOT DONE YET

Young said the Bucs would still be the favorite in the SoCon tournament even though they’ve hit a rough stretch to close the regular season.

“They’re not in the ditch, they’re in the gravel,” Young said. “They’ll right the ship. They’ll figure it out.”

UP NEXT

The Bucs conclude the regular season Sunday with a 2 p.m. home game against Furman. It’s Senior Day and it will be a busy one. ETSU will honor eight seniors before the game.

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