Tisdale’s 24 points lifted East Tennessee State to the Southern Conference basketball tournament championship Monday night with a 72-58 victory over Wofford at Harrah’s Cherokee Center.
The senior guard, who some felt was snubbed when the all-conference selections came out, was chosen as the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
The Bucs earned the SoCon’s automatic NCAA bid and will be making their 11th appearance in the Big Dance.
ETSU has won 12 games in a row and improved to 30-4, increasing the school record for victories in a season while becoming the fourth team in SoCon history to win 30 games.
“I don’t know where we fit in the history of ETSU basketball, but I know this, if there’s a Mt. Rushmore, we’re on it,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said. “These guys are just unbelievable.”
The NCAA Tournament pairings will be announced Sunday.
Tisdale scored 16 points in the first half and set the tone for ETSU, which led for almost 32 of the 40 minutes. He was 5 of 8 from the field, making 4 of 7 from 3-point range. Maybe more impressive was his 10-for-11 performance from the free throw line considering he came into the game as a 58 percent free throw shooter.
“The great thing with this team is it’s a different guy every night,” Forbes said. “Tonight Tisdale was just phenomenal. He willed us to the win. I just know how valuable he is to us. It doesn’t show up in the stats all the time. It showed tonight. I could tell he was on a mission.”
Tray Boyd added 11 points and joined Tisdale and Daivien Williamson on the all-tournament team.
“This whole ride to this special moment has been an amazing trip,” Tisdale said. “We’ve still got more to go.”
Tisdale made his first three 3-pointers and added a 3-point play when he was fouled shooting from long range and made all the free throws. He also drew two charges in the early going.
Once he got Wofford thinking about the three, Tisdale drove the lane and scored easily. He then added two more free throws as he scored ETSU’s final 10 points of the first half to give his team a 36-31 halftime advantage.
PUTTING IT AWAY
Patrick Good’s shake-and-bake 3-pointer gave ETSU a 49-40 lead with 11:39 to go. Moments later, Joe Hugley ripped a defensive rebound away from two Wofford players and made a 3-pointer at the other end for a 52-40 advantage.
When Jeromy Rodriguez scored on a left-handed scoop shot with 3:50 remaining, the Bucs were up 64-49 and the ETSU fans in the stands could almost taste it.
Seventh-seeded Wofford (19-16) had lost its final seven games of the regular season, including a 60-54 setback to ETSU on its senior night. The Terriers gave up a 14-point lead in the second half that night.
The losing streak dropped the Terriers to a play-in game once they got to the tournament. They were trying to become the first team to win four games in the SoCon tournament since Clemson did it in 1939.
Wofford was led by Chevez Goodwin’s 18 points.
Bo Hodges went over the 1,000-point mark for his career early in the game. The junior guard came into the game with 999 points and scored a layup at the 18:01 mark.
He finished with eight points and eight rebounds
Lucas N’Guessan, ETSU’s 7-foot center, was a non-factor in the first half after picking up two fouls.
He scored early in the second half but then got tangled with Storm Murphy when Murphy stopped short to initiate the contact in the open court. That was N’Guessan’s third foul and he headed back to the bench just two minutes into the second half.
N’Guessan came back in and his baby hook put the Bucs up 46-38 with just under 13 minutes left. A minute later, he was called for his fourth foul and grabbed a seat.
ETSU fans showed up as usual as the game was a sellout for the third time in the last four years.
The support for the Bucs wasn’t quite as overwhelming as it had been in the previous two games. Wofford brought four bus loads of students and estimates had the crowd swayed in ETSU’s favor roughly 70 percent to 30.
“I sat here when we lost to Wofford last year and I said we were really good, but we weren’t special,” Forbes said. “Tonight I sit here with a special team.”