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Future looks bright for young Bucs

Jeff Birchfield • Updated Mar 10, 2019 at 10:58 PM

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The future looks bright for the East Tennessee State basketball team, although the door isn't completely closed on this season.

With only one senior, James Harrison, on the team, the Bucs (24-9) put up a strong fight in an 81-72 loss to No. 22 Wofford in the Southern Conference tournament semifinals on Sunday at U.S. Cellular Center in Asheville.

Freshman Daivien Williamson scored 17 points and sophomore Mladen Armus finished with 15 points and nine rebounds to lead the way for the young Bucs.

Williamson hit 5 of 7 from the field, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range. His shots were timely, pulling ETSU within two at 32-30 before Fletcher Magee made a pair of shots to put the Terriers up by seven at the half.

When Wofford got out to its first double-digit lead, Williamson made his final 3-point shot to get ETSU back within eight.

The performance came one day after Williamson hit 3-of-9 from the field in the Bucs' 68-64 quarterfinal win over Chattanooga.

"Yesterday was really the first time he hasn't played well," ETSU coach Steve Forbes said about Williamson. "Today, he came out and played like who he is.

“As a freshman, he came out in a big environment and made big shots. He's got an air of confidence about himself, and I know he will get stronger and a lot better."

Armus, the 6-foot-10 sophomore post from Serbia, scored ETSU's first four points of the game and their first two points of the second half.

The only time Forbes was unhappy with the big post was when he shot an airball on an ill-advised 3-pointer from the top of the key.

"He's a tough kid who made free throws (7-of-8). How can you not love coaching him?" Forbes said. "Mladen plays hard. He's a great defender, but he's got to get better offensively. I would prefer he would put that 3-point shot away. He got an earful the second half, but all these guys are really good guys."

Junior guards Tray Boyd III and Isaiah Tisdale also finished in double figures with 13 and 12 points, respectively.

During the second half of the season, Boyd embraced coming off the bench in a sixth-man role and giving the Bucs a spark when needed.

"Tray came off the bench, but he's really a starter," Forbes said. "He's a great shooter and has gotten better off the bounce. He's become a better passer.

“(The young guards) have to become better defenders, but that's where we go from here."

SEASON NOT FINISHED

The Bucs will make their case for a National Invitational Tournament bid, although it's more likely they end up in either the CBI or CIT tournament.

Forbes rejected playing in one of the latter two tournaments last season with a senior-heavy team, but feels it can be beneficial to this young group.

"We didn't play last year because we had seven seniors and some injuries so it didn't make sense," Forbes said. "These guys need to keep playing and they deserve it. We will meet sometime this week with the administration and figure it out."

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