The Bucs are headed to Lexington, Kentucky, for the first round of the NCAA Tournament. It’s their third trip to national tournament and the previous two appearances came in Lexington.
This time, though, they’re not playing Kentucky — not yet, anyway.
ETSU will take on Purdue on Friday at 5 p.m. The winner takes on the winner of Kentucky and Murray State on Saturday.
The Bucs bring a 28-6 record into the tourney after winning the Southern Conference regular-season championship and falling in the conference tournament final to Samford, which earned the league’s automatic bid and will play at Southern California in the first round.
Purdue comes in (23-8) and is making its 20th NCAA appearance. The Boilermakers have never lost their first match in the postseason.
In college basketball, they say defense travels. That’s what went on for the Bucs in their 69-64 victory over previously undefeated Georgia Southern on Tuesday night.
After the dust had settled, ETSU coach Steve Forbes was especially satisfied by the defensive effort in Statesboro, Georgia. It might have even made the 390-mile drive home seem a little quicker after the 6-2 Bucs extended their winning streak to five games.
The Eagles came into the game ranked fourth in the country in scoring at 97 points per game and the Bucs held them to a season-low of 41 percent shooting. Forbes uses a term “kill,” when his team gets stops on three consecutive possessions. ETSU did that nine times on Tuesday night.
Of course, when you have one player pulling in 17 rebounds like Jeromy Rodriguez did, the other team isn’t going to get many second-chance opportunities. Rodriguez did his damage while playing only 20 minutes because of early foul trouble. Fifteen of his rebounds came in the second half.
ETSU returns to action Saturday with an early-December Southern Conference game against Wofford.
If you want to see the Bucs play before Christmas, you’d better do it next week. They only have two home games before the holiday. Monday night, they play host to Reinhardt, a team from the Appalachian Athletic Conference. On Dec. 8, UT-Martin comes to Freedom Hall for ETSU’s final non-conference home game.
The Bucs’ season is over, but Randy Sanders and his coaching staff are hard at work. For the second year in a row, there is an early signing period for football on the FCS and FBS levels, running from Dec. 19-21.
ETSU ended up as one of 24 teams to qualify for the FCS playoffs, and even though the Bucs lost a heartbreaking 34-27 decision to perennial playoff team Jacksonville State, they proved they belonged in the postseason. That, along with a Southern Conference championship and a dynamic coach who still might be the national coach of the year, should come in handy on the recruiting trail.
After the early signing period ends — and a lot of FCS teams aren’t expected to get much done then — the regular signing period begins Feb. 6 and runs through April 1.
ETSU was picked to win the Southern Conference, but so far it hasn’t won a game.
The Bucs fell to 0-8 after an 81-74 loss at South Alabama on Monday night. That game ended a four-game road trip.
Up next is a home game against Appalachian State on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Brooks Gym. It’s the start of a three-game home stand.