ETSU would clinch the Southern Conference regular-season championship with a victory. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m. at Freedom Hall. Since another large crowd is expected, the doors will open at 2:30 p.m.
“We got 40 more minutes of regular-season basketball,” said Tray Boyd, the Bucs’ leading scorer. “We have to make sure we get that job done and we’re going to cut those nets down at the crib. We’re not taking anything for granted. We just want to make sure we get the job done completely.”
The Bucs already have at least a share of the title and clinched the No. 1 seed in the SoCon tournament with a win at Wofford on Wednesday night.
ETSU could still win the outright crown with a loss, but it would need The Citadel to beat Furman on Saturday and that would rank as one of the biggest upsets of the college basketball season. The Citadel is 0-17 in the conference.
“This is what we signed up for,” said ETSU coach Steve Forbes, whose 26-4 team will take an eight-game winning streak into the contest. “That’s what we’ve been pointing toward all season long, to hang our own banner, and we have a chance to win it outright. We don’t want to share it.”
A win on Saturday would also assure the Bucs of a postseason berth. The SoCon regular-season outright champion earns an automatic bid to the NIT if it doesn’t make the NCAA Tournament.
ETSU is 15-2 in the SoCon and ranked second in the national Mid-Major poll.
In addition to Boyd, ETSU will honor Jeromy Rodriguez, Isaiah Tisdale, Lucas N’Guessan and Joe Hugley.
“We’re all excited on the inside, but we’re going to try to hold it in and handle business first,” Tisdale said.
The Bucs will open SoCon tournament play Saturday, March 7 at noon with a quarterfinal matchup against the winner of VMI and Samford. Those two teams will play the night before.
The tournament is being played at the same venue with a new name — Harrah’s Cherokee Center.
Bo Hodges is 30 points shy of becoming the 42nd player in ETSU history to score at least 1,000 points in his career. The 6-foot-4 junior guard from Nashville didn’t add much to his total against Wofford, scoring just five. But his reverse alley-oop dunk off a pass from Tisdale gave the Bucs the lead for good.
SCOUTING THE CATAMOUNTS
Western Carolina is 18-10 overall, 10-7 in the SoCon and is coming off a 109-78 victory over Samford.
ETSU beat the Catamounts 85-66 in Cullowhee, North Carolina, back in January. Western Carolina didn’t have the services of Carlos Dotson, one of the conference’s top big men. Dotson averages 15.5 points and 10.0 rebounds per game.
Northern Kentucky transfer Mason Faulkner leads Western in scoring at 17.5 points per game and Onno Stegner, who made seven 3-pointers against Samford, gets 12.1. Kingsport native Matt Halverson averages 10.1 and is one of the top 3-point and free throw shooters in the SoCon.