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ETSU braces for top-seed Wofford in semifinals

Jeff Bichfield • Updated Mar 9, 2019 at 6:30 PM

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — East Tennessee State will attempt to do something no other Southern Conference men's basketball team has done this season.

That is defeat No. 22 Wofford.

With the Bucs' 68-64 win over Chattanooga on Saturday, it sets up a showdown with the top-seeded Terriers in the SoCon tournament semifinals on Sunday at 4 p.m. inside U.S. Cellular Center.

ETSU (24-8) was swept by Wofford (27-4) in the regular season, but both games were hotly contested.

"(Wofford coach) Mike (Young) and his team have had a magical year and I know they're not here to finish second," Forbes said. "They're here to win it and it's their tournament. They have no weaknesses. They're tough and gritty.

"I go back to the first game and if it wasn't for me getting ejected (with a pair of technical fouls), it was a six-point game. Then at home, we're in overtime in a two-point game. People say it's anybody's tournament, but it's not. They're the favorite and they deserve it. That doesn't mean we can't beat them. We just have a ton of respect for them."

The No. 1 task will be stopping Southern Conference player of the year Fletcher Magee. The 6-foot-4 guard from Orlando has averaged 28 points in the two previous meetings with the Bucs. On Wednesday, Magee became the first SoCon player ever to be honored with the Oscar Robertson player of the week award.

However, Forbes is just as worried about the Terriers' Cameron Jackson, a powerful 6-foot-8, 250-pound post player. There's also sharp-shooting guard Nathan Hoover, who led Wofford with 17 points in a 99-72 romp over VMI in Saturday's tournament quarterfinals, and point guard Storm Murphy.

"Storm Murphy makes a lot of big shots. They will dial his number when they need him in the big games," Forbes said. "I think Hoover is the most improved player in our league and I voted for him for all-league. He can obviously shoot it. You have Cam Jackson and Keve Aluma who are in there killing people on the glass. They've got a lot of options and a good tactician over there as a coach."

Wofford, the first team since the Steph Curry-led Davidson Wildcats in 2007-08 to go undefeated in regular season SoCon play, had little trouble in its tournament opener, scoring the first 10 points of the game.

VMI made a late first-half run, but Magee hit a long 3-pointer at the buzzer for a 48-37 halftime lead. Magee hit the first 3-point shot of the second half and the Terriers were off to the races, leading by 20-plus points by the 12-minute mark.

Besides Hoover's 17 points, Chevez Goodwin had 14 points, including a trio of rim-rattling dunks. Aluma finished with 12 points, while Magee and Jackson scored 11 points each in the Terriers' 18th straight win.

Young said Sunday's game could be a "bloodbath," and complimented ETSU's toughness and effort by calling them "mean." Both teams can go deep on the bench as Magee talked about Wofford's balance.

"On any given night, we have a bunch of guys who can come out and get you," Magee said. "If a team's denying me the ball or making it hard on me, we have so many other scorers who can score the ball so easily and so efficiently."

Forbes agrees with those points, although he certainly respects what Magee brings to the court. He's averaged 20.4 points per game, hitting 42.3 percent from 3-point range.

"When they really need a basket, the guy can be looking towards Charlotte and make a shot," Forbes said. "The thing with that is you have to guard him, and not let the other ones hurt you really bad. You can't give him all the attention because you could have easily voted for Cameron Jackson as player of the year with the way he takes so much attention."

Wofford's losses have come against name programs — North Carolina, Oklahoma, Kansas and Mississippi State. All except Oklahoma were ranked at the time they faced the Terriers. Wofford blew out another Power 5 conference team, South Carolina, by an 81-61 score.

PREVIOUS MEETINGS

In a Dec. 1 game in Spartanburg, Wofford won 79-62, blowing the game open in the final couple of minutes. Magee scored a then season-high 24 points, while Jackson added 12 points and eight rebounds.

Magee had 32 points and Jackson had 20 to lead Wofford to an 78-76 overtime win over ETSU on Feb. 7 in Johnson City. The Bucs were leading 73-72 in the extra minutes when Magee made a contested 3-point shot that gave the Terriers the lead for good.

Bo Hodges hit a 3-point shot with 22 seconds left in regulation to send the game into overtime.

Patrick Good was the leading scorer for the Bucs with 18 points, followed by Hodges and Jeromy Rodriguez with 15 each. Rodriguez ended with 17 rebounds, while Mladen Armus also had a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

"They're a great team, but the first time we played, I don't think we had the chemistry we do now," Rodriguez said. "Obviously the second time, we played hard. The game tomorrow, we've got to play to the end."

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