“It’s going to be pretty emotional our last time playing at Freedom, our last time being able to play in front of these amazing fans,” said senior guard Desonta Bradford, the unquestioned leader of the Bucs. “Things will be quite emotional.”
Bradford will be one of eight seniors making their final appearances in Freedom Hall when ETSU plays host to Furman at 2 p.m.
After the pregame ceremonies, the Bucs will get down to the business of trying to win a conference championship. A victory would clinch at least a share of the Southern Conference regular-season title for ETSU, something that has been at stake all week for a team that has lost its last two games with the same goal in view.
“We had a chance to control our own destiny, and in a way we still do,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said. “If we win, we’re conference champs like last year.”
The Bucs, tied with UNC Greensboro for first place at 14-3, could use a little help from Samford on Sunday. Those two teams play at the Greensboro Coliseum at 4 p.m., roughly the time the ETSU-Furman game will be ending.
The Bucs come in 23-7 overall and have lost three of their last four games. ETSU followed Tuesday’s shocking home loss to The Citadel with a tough 75-71 defeat at the hands of Wofford on Friday.
Furman is 21-9, 12-5 in the league. A victory would clinch third place for the Paladins.
Last year, the Bucs finished tied with UNCG and Furman, but tiebreakers dropped them to the No. 3 seed in the SoCon tournament. This time, if ETSU finishes tied with UNCG, it loses the tiebreaker again based on the Spartans’ sweep of Wofford.
“Our league choses to take the losses from the top,” Forbes said. “Most leagues I’ve been in, it’s the worst. They (UNCG) lost to Chattanooga, which has the worst record in our league, and they’re not being penalized.
“We have no complaints. All we had to do is win our games and we haven’t done that.”
The SoCon’s regular-season champ earns a bid to the NIT if it doesn’t win the conference tournament. If two teams tie and one wins the tournament, the other gets the NIT bid.
“That’s not the ultimate goal, but it’s a caveat,” Forbes said of the NIT. “We’re not going to play in the CBI or the CIT or whatever. We’re not doing that. We’re going to play in the NCAA or NIT or nothing.”
The Bucs had 6,005 fans in the house against Wofford, and Bradford said they’ll need that kind of support again on Sunday.
“They always give us that extra push,” he said. “They’re loud. They’re into the game and we feed off of their energy.”
Forbes will be saying goodbye to eight players and three student-managers, including his son Chris.
“It’s an emotional day,” Forbes said. “All those kids’ parents are here. We’re going to miss them.”
In addition to Bradford, the seniors being honored are Peter Jurkin, Jermaine Long, David Burrell, Devontavius Payne, Jalan McCloud, Dillon Reppart and Karl Overstreet.
“Desonta’s going to end a solid four-year career here,” Forbes said. “Peter had a three-year career here. Devontavius, Jermaine and David, two-year career, and Jalan, one year.
“Those guys have been very instrumental in what we have done this year, and Karl and Dillon have done a great job of helping prepare our team. We have great managers. One of them happens to be my son.”