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ETSU ready to open Southern Conference season at The Citadel

Jeff Birchfield • Dec 4, 2019 at 11:00 AM

East Tennessee State and The Citadel will tip off their Southern Conference basketball seasons Wednesday night in Charleston, South Carolina.

The Bucs (7-1) hope it goes as well as last year’s visit to McAlister Field House, when Daivien Williamson scored 24 points in a 98-73 ETSU victory. Still, Williamson sees The Citadel (3-4) as a dangerous team — especially from 3-point range.

“We know from last year, they’re a very good shooting team,” Williamson said before Monday’s practice. “They like to get out in transition and they shoot the ball really well. We’re going to have to defend the 3-point line or they will shoot us out of the gym. A win would be a good momentum starter going into conference play.”

A February rematch in Johnson City proved tougher with the Bucs pulling out a 91-83 victory. Isaiah Tisdale was the catalyst for the Bucs that day, scoring a career-high 29 points. The 6-foot-1 senior guard feels confident heading into Wednesday’s game, although he sees the Bulldogs as a tough opponent.

“I’m looking forward to the matchup, but I have to look at it as just another conference game. It’s going to be a big one since it’s the first one,” Tisdale said. “We don’t take any game lightly. Our coaches tell us to play every game like it’s the biggest one of our lives.”

The Bulldogs (3-4) have won two of their last three games despite leading scorer Hayden Brown (16.3 points per game) being sidelined with a hamstring injury. Brown, a 6-foot-5 junior forward, is expected to be back for the ETSU game.

Freshman guard Fletcher Abee has picked up much of the slack in Brown’s absence. He’s averaging a team-high 30.3 minutes per game and is scoring 11.6 points per game. Kaiden Rice and Kaelon Harris are also averaging in double figures, as the Bulldogs have scored 76.4 points per game.

It’s slightly more than ETSU at 76 points per game, although the Bucs held opponents to 12 points less per contest. While the Bulldogs aren’t using the 3-point shot as frequently as some Dugger Baucom-coached teams have, they still make it a huge part of their arsenal.

“They’re not shooting it at the clip they have in the past, but they’re still shooting it,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said. “It’s a different style of play. They’re going to play a lot smaller, a little faster and they’re going to shoot a lot of perimeter shots, which leads to long rebounds.”

Forbes pointed out The Citadel is constantly mixing up its defense, making it important to be efficient offensively. However, ETSU also presents plenty of matchup problems with teams unable to lock in on one player.

Bo Hodges leads the Bucs at 14.3 points per game, although Tray Boyd III has been the biggest outside threat, hitting 42.7 percent from 3-point range as part of his 12.3 per-game scoring average. Williamson is averaging 10 points per game, followed by Lucas N’Guessan at 9.3 and Patrick Good at 8.8.

Overall, ETSU has seven players averaging eight points or better with Jeromy Rodriguez and Tisdale both at 8.1 per game. It allows Forbes to put different lineups on the floor, depending more on the matchup.

“We’re definitely going to switch up our lineups,” Forbes said. “We’re going to adjust to how they play, but they’re also going to have to adjust to how we play. To get off to a good start, there’s a good chance we will start with a little smaller lineup.”

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