Northern Kentucky pulled away from the Bucs early in the second half and rolled to an 81-63 victory Friday night at BB&T Arena in a battle of teams that played in the NCAA tournament last season.
“It’s not the way you want to start the season, but it’s not the end of the world,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said. “We thought we can beat them. They jumped on us and we didn’t have an answer.”
The Bucs couldn’t make shots, going 2 of 18 from 3-point range while shooting 37 percent overall, and turned the ball over 20 times. They were credited with only three assists.
It added up to a rough first game for a team trying to fill some big shoes. The Bucs were playing with four new starters and the inexperience showed.
Northern Kentucky, which won the Horizon League tournament last season, led by as many as 26 points in the second half.
“The tale of the tape is 20 turnovers,” Forbes said. “You can’t defend that. We’ve got to fix that. When you go on the road and you play against really good teams like this, you can’t do that.”
Jalan McCloud came off the bench to rescue a stagnant ETSU offense with all 11 of his points in the first half, but his team still fell behind by 10 twice.
The Bucs had a chance to get back to even late in the first half when they were down 36-32, but after making two steals they came up empty on back-to-back possessions.
Northern Kentucky led 41-32 at halftime and began to pour it on with a 14-2 run to open the second half.
Horizon League preseason player of the year Drew McDonald had 22 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Norse, who went 9 of 33 on 3-pointers. Lavone Holland II added 16 points and five assists, while Carson Williams had 15 points.
Desonta Bradford led the Bucs with 15 points, but left the game in the final minute after turning an ankle while making a layup. Kanayo Obi-Rapu added 10 points.
Freshman Mladen Armus was one of the few bright spots for ETSU. The 6-foot-10, 230-pound center had seven points and 10 rebounds and looked quick off his feet. He helped the Bucs out-rebound Northern Kentucky 43-40.
Fouls plagued ETSU in the early going. The Bucs had been called for six fouls before Northern Kentucky committed its first. Two starters, Jermaine Long and David Burrell, picked up two quick ones. Long was called for his fourth 30 seconds into the second half and played only nine minutes.
New deal for Forbes
An hour before the game, news of a contract extension for Forbes was announced. It runs through the 2021-22 season.
Forbes won 51 games in his first two season at ETSU. After his first season, he was given a $30,000 raise, making his annual salary $205,000 plus a yearly stipend of $27,000.
Last year, the school announced a “retention” bonus for the coach. That paid him an additional $150,000 in July and he’s scheduled to receive $175,000 on July 1, 2018 and $200,000 on both July 1, 2019 and July 1, 2020 if he remains at the school.
The two teams are scheduled to meet again Dec. 6 at Freedom Hall.
Cincinnati is using Northern Kentucky’s arena this season while its own facility is undergoing renovations. The Bearcats opened the season Friday afternoon with a 107-77 victory over Savannah State, the Bucs’ next opponent. They’ll meet Monday night in Savannah, Georgia.