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UNCG up next for Bucs

Joe Avento • Updated Feb 1, 2020 at 9:16 AM

East Tennessee State basketball coach Steve Forbes usually has a pretty good handle on the mindset of his team, but he was left scratching his head after the Bucs’ last outing.

“I didn’t see that one coming,” he said after ETSU was thoroughly dismantled by Mercer in a 71-55 home defeat on Wednesday.

What Forbes does see coming is Saturday’s matchup with UNC Greensboro. The Spartans are coming to town for a 4 p.m. game at Freedom Hall and it’s one that will likely have championship implications in the Southern Conference race.

“We’re coming off a tough loss and now we have to see what we’re made off on Saturday,” Forbes said.

Both teams are 7-2 in the SoCon, just behind Furman at 8-2. ETSU is 18-4 overall and ranked fourth in the national Mid-Major poll, while UNCG is 17-5 and ranked sixth.

The Spartans have won five games in a row. They escaped in their last game with a 72-58 victory over upstart Western Carolina. The Catamounts held a 52-41 lead before UNCG finished the game on a 31-6 run to win going away.

It’s that kind of defense — UNCG held Western to six points over the final 13:27 — that should have ETSU concerned.

“It’s going to be a hard game,” Forbes said. “There’s probably nobody I have more respect for in the league than them. We’ve had some battles with them, not only during the regular season, but in the conference championship.”

SCOUTING UNCG

The Spartans hold opponents under 60 points per game, the top mark in the SoCon, and force a league-leading 19 turnovers.

UNCG is led by SoCon preseason player of the year Isaiah Miller, who leads the league in scoring at 18.6 points per game. The junior point guard is also the team’s top assist man and one of its best rebounders.

Miller is the only UNCG player averaging in double figures.

James Dickey is getting 7.9 points and 9.0 rebounds a game.

Kaleb Hunter is the second-leading scorer at 9.6 points per game and Kyrin Galloway averages 8.2, third on the team.

FIRST MEETING

ETSU was in a similar situation the last time it played UNCG. Coming off a bad loss to Furman, the Bucs beat the Spartans 64-57. Joe Hugley led ETSU with 14 points and nine rebounds, while Miller had 24 points for the Spartans.

UNCG coach Wes Miller was ejected after getting called for two technical fouls in the final minute.

RELIVING MERCER

The Bucs went 3 for 22 from behind the 3-point line against Mercer and those shooting woes stopped them from gaining any momentum even when their press put them in position to make it a game.

“It’s hard to get momentum when you can’t score,” Forbes said. “Part of being on a great team is you got to do your job. We’ve got some guys who are struggling to do their job.”

FOUL SHOOTING

The Spartans are shooting 64 percent from the line, ranking last in the league. They’re the only team in the conference worse than ETSU’s 67 percent.

AFTER UNCG

The Bucs hit the road twice next week in what is expected to be two tough games. They play at Chattanooga on Wednesday before getting a rematch with Mercer in Macon, Georgia, on Saturday.

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