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One more game for Bucs to reach goal

Jeff Birchfield • Mar 8, 2020 at 9:40 PM

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — East Tennessee State senior guard Tray Boyd had a message for teammates Isaiah Tisdale and Daivien Williamson as they exited the media room Sunday at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center.

“One more to go, boys. At least for this tournament,” Boyd said.

Fresh off a 97-75 blowout of Western Carolina in Sunday’s Southern Conference basketball semifinals and capturing a school-record 29th win of the season, there was little time to celebrate. Instead, the No. 1-seeded Bucs (29-4) quickly turned their attention to Monday night’s championship game against No. 7-seeded Wofford.

The Terriers (19-15) advanced to the championship with a dramatic 72-70 victory over Chattanooga. Storm Murphy made a move to get Chattanooga defender Maurice Commander in the air to make an off-balance, game-winning shot from the free-throw line with 3.2 seconds left.

Now, the Bucs will try for a season sweep after both regular-season games went to the wire.

Isaiah Tisdale came up with a steal in the closing seconds to preserve a 49-48 ETSU win on New Year’s Day in Johnson City. The Bucs trailed much of a Feb. 26 game in Spartanburg before pulling ahead late for a 60-54 victory.

“We’ve had two battles with them,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said. “We had a donnybrook, 49-48, football score in the first game. They really kicked our tails over there for probably for 25 minutes. The last 15 minutes, we went on a tear. They have guys like (Nathan) Hoover, Storm Murphy, Trevor Stumpe, (Chevez) Goodwin, who were all here last year.”

One player Forbes didn’t point out was Messiah Jones, who led the Terriers in both games against the Bucs. He came off the bench to score 18 in the Johnson City loss, and had 19 points and eight rebounds in the rematch.

In Sunday semifinal’s win, Murphy led the Terriers with 15 points. Tray Hollowell totaled 12, followed by Jones with 11 and Goodwin with 10. Wofford was deadly from the outside, going 11-for-20 from 3-point range.

Wofford coach Jay McCauley sees the championship coming down to the basics.

“They have a lot of firepower, a lot of shooting, but we can shoot it too,” McCauley said. “It’s going to come down to who shares the ball and takes care of the ball the best. The rebounds are always a big factor in who wins and loses our games with them. It’s always a defensive, physical battle and our team will play with that mentality.”

NO SURPRISE TO FORBES

Forbes wasn’t shocked to see the No. 6 and No. 7 seeds in the tournament advance to the tournament. He certainly expected his own team to be there.

“It’s a testament to the depth of our league that Wofford and Chattanooga made the semifinals,” Forbes said. “We’ve been saying it all year how good and how deep the league is. I think for us, the thing I’m most proud of is that we’ve made the championship (game) four of our five years. That’s a pretty good testament to what we have as a program and culture at East Tennessee State.”

Boyd echoed his coach’s sentiment, even getting a fist bump from Forbes when explaining why the Bucs are prepared for any opponent.

“The way we practice is way harder than the game. The game slows down for us,” Boyd said.

Ironically, it was the fast pace that the Bucs played that led to Western’s demise. Daivien Williamson led the Bucs attacking the basket, scoring a team-high 20 points. Boyd totaled 18 and three others hit double digits to set up Monday’s showdown.

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