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ETSU tries to rekindle its winning ways in SoCon quarterfinals

Joe Avento • Mar 2, 2018 at 9:51 PM

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — East Tennessee State basketball coach Steve Forbes is glad the Southern Conference tournament is considered a new season, especially the way his team finished the old one.

ETSU, which closed the regular season with three consecutive home losses, takes on Chattanooga in Saturday’s 6 p.m. quarterfinal. The Mocs beat Samford 89-79 In Friday night's opening round.

“I feel very good,” Forbes said. “I’m obviously disappointed in the three losses at home. That wasn’t something I thought was going to happen. We have to move on. We have to figure out what our problems were and fix it. I feel pretty confident that we know what the issues are. We got a little too extended on defense and we got beat off the dribble which led to open threes. And we didn’t finish games defensively.”

The Bucs will take a 23-8 record into the tournament and with a 14-4 SoCon record, they’re seeded second in the 10-team field, only behind regular-season champion UNC Greensboro, the team they beat in last year’s championship game.

“Hopefully we execute and play to our strengths,” said ETSU senior guard Jalan McCloud, who won a conference tournament championship last year while playing for Texas Southern. “We’ve been here before. We had a 16-game winning streak. We don’t think of it as do-or-die. We just take it day by day.”

The winner advances to Sunday’s 6:30 p.m. semifinal. The championship game is scheduled for Monday at 9 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN2.

HOME AWAY FROM HOME

The tournament is being played at the U.S. Cellular Center, an arena that has been kind to the Bucs the past few years. They made the final two years ago before winning it all last year, going 5-1 here during those two seasons.

“Asheville has been good to us the last couple of years,” ETSU’s Desonta Bradford said. “I’’m looking forward to the same thing.”

ETSU ticket manager Brandon Hudson reported that the school sold its entire allotment of tickets a while ago. Tickets are still available at the arena’s box office.

“We had three hard losses, but our guys have confidence,” Forbes said. “We know we’re going to have great crowd support, so it will feel like home.”

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Bradford comes in with a target on his back after being voted the SoCon’s player of the year by the league’s coaches. The senior guard has spent the season stuffing the stat sheet. In addition to being the only player in the top 10 in the SoCon in rebounds, assists, steals, field goal percentage and free throw percentage, he’s the conference’s third-leading scorer, averaging 15.5 points per game.

McCloud was an all-conference pick, while teammate Bo Hodges was the conference’s freshman of the year and Mladen Armus joined him on the all-freshman team.

SCOUTING CHATTANOOGA

Chattanooga finished in last place and was the only school not to be represented on the All-SoCon team. Considering the rivalry, that might even make the Mocs a more dangerous opponent.

The 10th-seeded Mocs, who would like nothing better than to end a promising season for ETSU, come in 10-22 after Friday’s victory against Samford. The Bucs won both regular-season games.

Nat Dixon leads Chattanooga in scoring at 14.3 points per game. Makinde London averages 13.5 after his 25-point effort Friday night.

Kingsport’s Makale Foreman has raised his average to 10.0 after four big games in a row. He had 14 against Samford in the Mocs' tournament opener.

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