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Bucs grind out Forbes’ 100th win in SoCon quarterfinals

Joe Avento • Mar 9, 2019 at 6:03 PM

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Steve Forbes’ 100th victory as East Tennessee State’s basketball coach wasn’t pretty, but this time of year that doesn’t matter.

ETSU beat in-state rival Chattanooga 68-64 Saturday in the quarterfinals of the Southern Conference tournament at U.S. Cellular Center.

With members of ETSU’s dynasty teams of the late 1980s and early ’90s in the building, the Bucs improved to 24-8 and advanced to the semifinals.

“It’s not my 100th win, it’s our 100th win,” Forbes said. “It takes a lot of people for something like that to happen in four years. It means a lot to me because it’s a lot of wins. I’m proud of that. I’m proud of our program.”

The Bucs take on top-seeded Wofford in Sunday’s 4 p.m. semifinal. Wofford, ranked 22nd nationally, beat VMI 99-72 in Saturday’s first quarterfinal. The Terriers have won 18 games in a row and bring a 27-4 record into the semifinals.

The semifinal winners meet Monday night for the championship and the SoCon’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Wofford has likely already locked up an NCAA bid as an at-large team if it doesn’t win the tournament.

It was ETSU’s eighth consecutive victory over the Mocs, who finished their season at 12-20.

Tray Boyd III came off the bench to lead the Bucs with 21 points. ETSU also got 12 points from Bo Hodges and 10 points and 15 rebounds from Jeromy Rodriguez.

THE TURNING POINT

Chattanooga just wouldn’t go away in the second half and suddenly the Mocs had the ball with a chance to take the lead in the final two minutes.

Instead, they threw the ball away and Hodges scored the biggest basket of the game for the Bucs. His one-on-one drive to the basket left ETSU up 64-61 with 1:30 remaining.

Hodges’ basket came on a play where his teammates spread the court as wide as they could and just let him take his man to the basket. There were no passes or picks, and Hodges delivered.

“I played with a guy in college,” Forbes said. “He was a great scorer and his definition of give-and-go was ‘give me the ball and get the hell out of my way.’ So basically, it was give-and-go. Give Bo the ball and get the hell out of the way and let him score. Really complicated stuff.”

Boyd connected on a leaner moments later to give ETSU a 66-61 advantage.

The Bucs iced it when freshman point guard Daivien Williamson made two free throws with 16 seconds left. Williamson also missed the front end of two one-and-ones in the final minute to give the Mocs a chance.

THE BUILDUP

Both teams led by seven points in the first half.

The Bucs finally went up by nine midway through the second half. ETSU’s 7-footer Lucas N’Guessan swatted away a layup that would have brought the Mocs to within four points. The ball went out to Williamson, who found Boyd for an uncontested 3-pointer.

The five-point swing put the Bucs up 53-44 with 12:10 left.

The Mocs didn’t fade, cutting it to 53-50 with back-to-back 3-pointers, including one by David Jean-Baptiste that swished as the buzzer on the shot clock sounded. He did that three times.

A fourth consecutive empty possession from ETSU allowed Chattanooga to cut it to 53-52 before N’Guessan broke the drought for the Bucs with an emphatic dunk off of a pass from Hodges. That put the Bucs up 55-52 with 8:05 remaining.

Chattanooga got within one point, but never managed to catch the Bucs.

“Every possession was a grind,” Chattanooga coach Lamont Paris said. “It had an NCAA tournament-esque atmosphere from that standpoint, how hard the guys were competing. It was a high level of competition on both sides of the ball.”

BY THE NUMBERS

Boyd went 9 of 15 from the field, including 3 of 6 from 3-point range. Isaiah Tisdale was the only other ETSU player to make a 3-pointer as the Bucs finished 4 of 14 from long range.

ETSU shot 44 percent and out-rebounded the Mocs 38-34. Chattanooga shot 43 percent.

Free throws hurt the Bucs again, but this time they held their own. While ETSU missed six of its 14 foul shots, the Mocs missed 7 of their 17 tries.

Baptiste led the Mocs with 17 points, going 4 of 7 on 3-pointers. Ramon Villa was a beast inside, scoring 16 points for Chattanooga. Kevin Easley, the SoCon’s freshman of the year, had nine points and 12 rebounds.

TV TIME

The ETSU-Wofford game will be televised locally by ABC Tri-Cities. Monday night’s championship game will be on ESPN.

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