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Boyd lifts Bucs past UNCG, back into first-place tie

Joe Avento • Feb 1, 2020 at 7:31 PM

Tray Boyd made his first start of the season a memorable one, and suddenly the East Tennessee State basketball team has its mojo back.

Boyd shot his way out of a slump and brought his team with him, scoring a career-high 30 points Saturday as East Tennessee State rolled past UNC Greensboro 82-65 in a Southern Conference basketball game at Freedom Hall.

“I’ve been coaching a long time and I’m not sure I’ve seen too many better individual performances than what Tray Boyd showed us today,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said. “I was real proud of him the way he played.”

Posting what is probably its most important SoCon victory of the season, ETSU improved to 19-4 overall, and pulled into a tie for first place with Furman at 8-2 in the conference. UNCG fell to 17-6, 7-3.

ETSU came into the game ranked fourth in the national Mid-Major poll, while UNCG was sixth.

“Every win’s a big win,” said ETSU’s Bo Hodges, who finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds. “But this one is a big win. They’re one of the top teams in our league. I was proud of us.”

Boyd had come off the bench to be the team’s leading scorer, saying all along that he liked that role. When he was inserted into the starting lineup, he took off. The senior guard made 10 of 16 shots, including 6 of 9 from 3-point range.

“I felt confident again,” said Boyd, who was 1 for 9 in Wednesday night’s loss to Mercer. “I feel like myself again.”

TOUGH START

The way UNCG started, the crowd of 5,838 began to wonder if this was going to be a repeat of ETSU’s lopsided loss to Mercer. The Spartans made their first three 3-pointers and jumped out to a 19-5 lead as Isaiah Miller had 11 quick points.

That was as big as UNCG’s lead got. ETSU kept whittling and pulled even by halftime at 37-37.

The teams stayed close for the first five minutes of the second half and when Isaiah Tisdale scored on a layup with 14:28 left, the Bucs were up 45-44. They never trailed after that.

“I’m obviously very proud of our response from Wednesday night when Mercer came in here and whipped our tails and Greensboro whipped our tails at the start of the game,” Forbes said. “Our guys showed a lot of character by not folding and staying the course.”

SECOND-HALF SURGE

Boyd hit a second-chance 3-pointer and Tisdale drew a charge, leading to a dunk from Lucas N’Guessan and a 63-55 ETSU lead.

That drew a timeout from UNCG coach Wes Miller. The large crowd was getting into the game and Boyd slapped hands with the fans along the sideline on his way to the bench.

“The fans gave great energy so I wanted to give it back,” Boyd said. “I wanted to get them pumped, get them excited, make sure they feel like they’re part of the game too.”

Moments later, Hodges scored and ETSU was up 65-55. The Bucs’ lead got as big as 17 points and they won going away.

Boyd scored the last points of the day on a deep 3-pointer with 12 seconds left as the shot clock wound down.

“That was a statement shot,” he said.

The statement was that ETSU’s streaky shooter was back, and his teammates couldn’t be happier.

“I see night in, night out, the work he puts in,” Hodges said. “The shots he shoots every night, every day. To see him miss those was disappointing. I tell him to keep shooting. Thirty tonight … I’m proud of him. The shots went in. He’s happy. I’m happy. The team’s happy.”

NO ANSWER

“We didn’t have an answer for Tray Boyd,” Wes Miller said. “He was phenomenal. I thought we guarded him well and he still made it.”

For Boyd’s part, he still insists he doesn’t care if he’s in the starting lineup or not.

“Just doing what’s best for the team,” he said. “I don’t mind starting. I don’t mind coming off the bench. As long as we get the W.”

BY THE NUMBERS

UNCG out-rebounded the Bucs 15-10 in the first half, but by the time the game ended, ETSU was up 36-25.

N’Guessan had 12 points for ETSU. Daivien Williamson, who also started for just the third time this season as Forbes shook up his lineup, finished with nine.

Isaiah Miller led the Spartans with 18 points and Keyshaun Langley added 14. James Dickey, UNCG’s all-conference big man, was plagued by foul trouble the entire game and finished with nine points and seven rebounds.

ETSU finished 9 of 16 from 3-point range and shot 56 percent overall. After making their first three, UNCG went 3 of 15 on 3-pointers.

UP NEXT

The Bucs heads to Chattanooga for a SoCon game Wednesday, the start of a two-game road trip. They also get another crack at Mercer on Feb. 5. UNCG plays host to The Citadel on Wednesday.

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