T.J. Cromer and Ge’Lawn Guyn have had a knack for coming through at the biggest moments for the East Tennessee State University basketball team all season.
They did it again Thursday night in the Bucs’ 94-90 overtime win over Samford at Freedom Hall Civic Center.
Cromer came up with a steal off a double team of Samford center Wyatt Walker at the end of regulation to send the game into overtime. In the extra period, he added a stepback jumper with two seconds left on the shot clock for the final of his 19 points.
“Coach told us to help on the back side on that play,” Cromer said. “I took a gamble and came up with the steal. Then on that shot in overtime, we thrive on those shots. We put in the work in the gym and I was able to make that shot tonight. But, we thrive in these types of games, and it’s why we say we’re ETSU tough.”
The Bucs improved to 16-9 overall and 9-3 in the Southern Conference. Combined with Chattanooga’s 67-61 road loss at Western Carolina, it sets up a showdown for first place in the league on Saturday at Freedom Hall.
Clinging to the lead against Samford, Guyn knocked down four free throws in the final seconds to secure the victory. Guyn, who made a 3-pointer earlier in the overtime period to give ETSU the lead, tallied a team-best 25 points.
“I practice making shots all the time, shoot a lot of shots in practice, take a lot of shots on my own, and I expect them to go in,” said Guyn, the senior guard. “We weren’t looking to have a close game. We were up by 11, but they came out and had a good start in the second half. But in the end, we pulled it out.”
Their heroics were needed as Wyatt, the Bulldogs 6-foot-9 freshman center, finished with a game-high 30 points after hitting 9 of 12 from the field and 12 of 14 from the free-throw line.
The Bucs, who came out firing early with 3-point goals by Lester Wilson, Cromer and Guyn, countered with a balanced attack which included 12 points and nine rebounds from Isaac Banks, 10 points for Desonta Bradford and nine apiece for Peter Jurkin and Wilson.
ETSU coach Steve Forbes was pleased with the victory, but he wasn’t pleased about the Bucs letting the Bulldogs (12-15, 3-11) back in the game after holding a 44-33 lead at the half.
“Give Samford a lot of credit for not going away,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said. “They punched us in the mouth in the second half. We had 10 assists in the first half, we were sharing the ball and we played well. The first five minutes of the second half, we could put them away or let them back in the game. We got on our heels and gave them some confidence and they came right at us.”
Still ETSU appeared to be in good position to win in regulation with less than two minutes to go.
Leading by just a point, Deuce Bello flew through the air and over the Samford defense to score on a dunk and get fouled in the process. He hit the free throw and ETSU then held a 79-75 lead.
But back-to-back possessions resulted in baskets for Walker and the game was tied with just 49 seconds to go.
After ETSU couldn’t convert on the offensive end, the Bulldogs once again went to Walker. But this time the Bucs double-teamed him and Cromer came up with the steal, sending the game into overtime.
Playing a familiar refrain, it was the Bucs’ third straight overtime game at home and each time they have come out on top.
“We’ve found a way to win these close games,” Forbes said. “Ge’Lawn made a couple of plays, T.J. made some plays and that’s really all you can ask for. I’m never going to be disappointed with a win. When I came here March 30th, I said I wanted to give this group of guys a chance to play meaningful games in March. It’s not quite March, but they’ve got a chance to play in a meaningful game on Saturday.”