Hodges, the athletic do-it-all guard for the East Tennessee State basketball team, is coming off the finest defensive performance of his career. He held VMI’s Bubba Parham, the Southern Conference’s leading scorer at the time, to two meaningless free throws on Thursday night.
He’ll be tested again Sunday when the Bucs play at UNC Greensboro in a Southern Conference game. Tipoff is set for 3 p.m. at Greensboro Coliseum.
Francis Alonso will be Hodges’ next assignment, and that has been a tough one for most SoCon defenders over the past few years. The senior guard from Spain is averaging 16.8 points per game and can get hot at any given time. He scored 28 points in his team’s last game, a 79-76 victory over Western Carolina, including hitting the winning 3-pointer with four seconds left in overtime.
“They’re both scorers, but they’re different,” Hodges said. “Alonso runs off more screens. Bubba is more of a ball scorer. Like I said, I take people scoring on me personally. I try not to let them score.”
Alonso has played nine games against ETSU in his career. He’s averaged 18 points and has made 27 3-pointers.
The Spartans are 23-5 overall, 12-3. ETSU comes in 22-7, 12-4. Three teams — ETSU, UNCG and, less likely, Furman — can still earn the second seed in the SoCon tournament behind Wofford, which has clinched the No. 1 spot.
“We have a chance to get back in the standings,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said. “Whether that happens, I don’t know. It depends on the some things. We have to worry about us and take care of business. We’re in the right frame of mind.”
Hodges has been hobbled by preseason leg injuries during much of the season, but he’s been working through the pain and says he’s feeling better. He also scored a career-high 26 points against VMI and pulled in 12 rebounds.
“I’ve been telling everybody, I’m starting to feel better and better every day,” said Hodges, the SoCon’s freshman of the year last season. “I’m getting healthier and getting back to the old me.”
Forbes says stopping Alonso is the key, but not to the point where talented guard Isaiah Miller and power forward James Dickey beat you.
“Alonso’s so good at moving without the ball,” Forbes said. “He draws a lot of attention. You have to give him attention, but you have to stick with your principles. When you don’t, then you let a guy like Allegri get five 3s. We didn’t do a good job defending the 3-point line on their bigs last time. We have to do better.”
The Allegri to which Forbes was referring is Angelo Allegri, a freshman forward for UNCG. He went 5-of-6 on 3-pointers in the Spartans’ 75-68 victory over ETSU last month at Freedom Hall. Allegri has made 12 3-pointers in his other 26 games.
The game is the Bucs’ next-to-last regular-season contest. After closing at home with Western Carolina on Saturday, March 2, they head to Asheville for the SoCon tournament.
“It’s time to play a big game,” Forbes said. “This will be a good indicator for us as we head into the tournament.”