Bo Hodges shook off a sore knee that kept him out of practice much of the week and put a hurting on Chattanooga.
Hodges scored a career-high 27 points, including East Tennessee State’s first 12, as the Bucs defeated their biggest rival 75-64 Saturday in a Southern Conference basketball game at Freedom Hall.
With a season-best crowd of 6,086 on hand, ETSU stretched its winning streak over the Mocs to nine games. The Bucs improved to 18-3 for their best start since the 1990-91 season. They’re also alone in first place in the SoCon at 7-1.
Hodges suffered a deep bone bruise in his left knee with a fall in ETSU’s last game, a week ago against Western Carolina. He played with a protective sleeve on his knee.
“I guess he needs to sit out of practice more,” Bucs coach Steve Forbes said. “It’s probably a good thing we had this break because I don’t know that he would have played. He didn’t practice until Friday.”
Hodges attacked the basket from the start. He made 12 of 17 shots. At one point, the Bucs were leading 17-12 and Hodges had 14 points. He had 19 by halftime and finished with eight rebounds and five steals and didn’t turn the ball over in more than 32 minutes of playing time.
“Sometimes I’m passive, just trying to get the game going and let it come to me,” Hodges said. “They’re always telling me, ‘Attack the basket.’ And that’s what I did. I just come to play my best every night. At least I try to.”
Daivien Williamson added 15 points, while Lucas N’Guessan had 12 points and eight rebounds.
ETSU led 34-26 at halftime and went on a decisive run to start the second half.
N’Guessan, the Bucs’s 7-foot center, made a 3-pointer to start the run. It was the team’s first 3-pointer of the game and it extended he program’s streak to 1,022 games with at least one 3-pointer, the fifth longest in the country.
“Everybody was freaking out because we didn’t make a 3 in the first half,” Forbes said. “Oh my God, the streak is going to go away. We did make one to make everybody happy.”
The Buds finished 4 of 18 from long range.
N’Guessan’s basket began a 22-3 run that put the Bucs up 56-29 with 13:47 remaining. Isiah Tisdale made a 3-pointer to keep the run alive and Tray Boyd followed with one of his own.
The seven-minute run sent the fans into a frenzy, but the Mocs had one last punch in them. They made five 3-pointers and cut the defIcit to single digits a couple of times, but never could get over the hump.
“We spotted them what seemed like a 40-point lead,” said Chattanooga coach Lamont Paris, whose team fell to 13-8 overall, 4-4 in the SoCon. “When you get in that situation, to make a comeback against a good team, particularly a good defensive team, it’s hard. You need everything to go your way down the stretch. Some of them did. We needed one or two more things to happen down the stretch and it didn’t.”
With ETSU leading 62-53 and the once-comfortable lead dwindling, Chattanooga had a chance to cut it even more. Grant Ledford launched a 3-pointer from the corner, but Hodges blocked the shot and Williamson scored at the other end.
BY THE NUMBERS
The Bucs turned the ball over just six times and their starting five had none of them.
Chattanooga was led by Ramon Vila and A.J. Caldwell, each of whom had 17 points.
The Mocs’ leading scorer, Matt Ryan, was held to nine points, about six below his average. He was guarded by Hodges much of the game and spent some time on the bench with foul trouble.
Chattanooga outshot the Bucs 51 percent to 48, out-rebounded them 30-28 and made more 3-pointers (5-4).
The Bucs forced 18 turnovers and turned them into 20 points.
ETSU went 15 of 18 on free throws. Hodges was 3 for 6 and was the only Buc to miss from the line.
Chattanooga still leads the overall series 47-42, but the Bucs pulled ahead 6,704 points to 6,700 in the amazingly close rivalry.
ETSU assistant Brooks Savage, who formerly worked at Chattanooga, missed the game as his wife, Lauren, gave birth to a daughter. It’s the couple’s first child.
ETSU plays host to Mercer on Wednesday, while Chattanooga goes to Samford.
The Bucs and Mocs will face each other again Feb. 5 in Chattanooga.