With the Bucs coming into the Southern Conference tournament on a three-game losing streak, Forbes inserted freshmen Bo Hodges and Mladen Armus into the starting lineup against Chattanooga in their quarterfinal matchup.
The pair of freshmen accounted for 15 first-half points and 20 points overall as the Bucs (24-8) took a 77-59 victory over the rival Mocs at the U.S. Cellular Center.
No. 2 seed ETSU will play No. 3 Furman, a 97-73 winner over Western Carolina, in Sunday's semifinal at 6:30 p.m.
"What's the definition of insanity, trying to do the same thing over and over and expecting different results," Forbes said about the bold move. "I made this decision after the Furman game that we were going to mix things up a little bit.
"They're good players, both on the all-freshman team. We kept it to ourselves that we were going to do it, but I thought it really helped."
Hodges, who was named Southern Conference freshman of the year earlier this week, logged 30 minutes and scored 12 points. He talked about making the most of his opportunity, which included switching positions.
"Coach came to me and told me that I was going to start this weekend," Hodges said. "He had the confidence to put me in the starting five and my teammates helped out. They were telling me that they had my back and everything is going to be all right."
Forbes added: "Here's how smart he is as a freshman. He played the four (position) all year long and he starts at the three today. That doesn't sound like a lot, but there are about 70 plays he has to know two positions as a freshman. That's really, really hard."
MCCLOUD'S STARRING ROLE
Jalan McCloud hit 10 of 16 attempts from the field as he led ETSU with 22 points and five assists.
It wasn't McCloud's first time in a high-stakes atmosphere. Last season, he played on the Texas Southern team which won the 2017 Southwest Athletic Conference tournament before losing to eventual national champion North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
"I felt comfortable out there," McCloud said. "Anyone on this team is capable of being a big factor on any given night. Tonight, I just happened to be in a groove. My teammates supported that and gave me open shots."
ETSU dominated inside, outscoring Chattanooga 62-28 in the paint and hitting 33 of 47 shots inside the 3-point line.
Desonta Bradford had 14 points, six rebounds and four assists for ETSU, followed by Peter Jurkin and Hodges with 12 points each and Armus with eight points and five rebounds. Bradford came out of the game early in the second half to get his ankle taped, but returned minutes later.
"It was just a little messed up, but it's fine," Bradford said afterward.
Chattanooga, under first-year coach Lamont Paris, ended its season at 10-23.
THE BIG RUN
ETSU had three dunks in the first half, two by Hodges and another by Bradford. But it was a 3-point shot by McCloud which spurred a 9-1 ETSU run to end the half and a 21-3 run overall.
"I knew that was a momentum boost for our team going into halftime," McCloud said. "It gave us a seven-point lead."
Forbes added: "I thought the shot at the end of the first half gave us some juice and we came out with great energy in the first five minutes of the second half. Our guys are always tuned in that first five minutes. It's something I preach. They made a couple of baskets, but then we got it rolling."
The Bucs pushed the margin to 17 points before James Lewis Jr. and sophomore guard Makale Foreman scored on back-to-back possessions for the Mocs.
Foreman, the brother of former University of Tennessee football defensive back Malik Foreman and current Dobyns-Bennett point guard Marae Foreman, tied it up early with a 3-point shot from the left side of the arc.
Foreman gave the Mocs a 30-29 lead with 3:56 left in the first half with a 15-foot jumper before the Bucs responded on the other end with the aforementioned 3-pointer by McCloud.
Foreman finished with 13 points, tying Makinde London for the Mocs' team high. It was the fifth straight game Foreman has scored double figures, but he was playing with a heavy heart after the tragic death of his best friend a day early.
"My best friend died yesterday, so I go out there and play for him. I tried to do the best I could," an emotional Foreman said after the game.
Former Daniel Boone standout Dillon Reppart got in the game in the final minute for ETSU. He drove to the basket and was fouled before converting 1 of 2 free throws.