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Senior forward Rodriguez ready to return for Bucs

Joe Avento • Feb 24, 2020 at 8:08 PM

JOHNSON CITY — A basketball team with a 25-4 record might not appear to need a boost two games from the end of the regular season, but that is what’s about to happen for East Tennessee State.

Jeromy Rodriguez, the Bucs’ star senior forward, is expected to return to action Wednesday night against Wofford after missing 13 games in a row with a foot injury.

“Man, it feels so good,” Rodriguez on Monday said before practicing with the team. “I’ve been waiting for this moment.”

Rodriguez, who underwent foot surgery last summer, hasn’t played since early January. The Bucs won 12 of the 13 games he missed.

“I just had to do what I had to do,” he said. “My teammates were doing a pretty good job, letting me take my time doing rehab. I’m just glad to be back. We waited the right amount of time for me to be 100% and now I’m back.”

Before being injured, Rodriguez was averaging 10.7 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. He averaged more than 10 rebounds a game last season and broke the school record with 113 offensive rebounds.

“It’s a big boost to our team,” coach Steve Forbes said. “He’s an emotional and spiritual leader. He’s a really good player. Obviously, he’s going to help us inside, rebounding, defense, scoring around the basket. He adds more depth, especially when you get in some foul trouble, and we’ve kind of been in and out of foul trouble a lot lately.”

The Bucs have won seven games in a row and are one of only five teams in the country to reach the 25-victory mark. A win Wednesday at Wofford would assure them the top seed in the Southern Conference tournament, which begins March 6 in Asheville, North Carolina.

“It’s going to help us big getting Romy back,” said guard Tray Boyd III, the Bucs’ leading scorer. “For him to come back around this time is going to help us make our run. He’s just a great player. He brings a very unselfish attitude to the team and to have him back is going to help us, especially in the tournament.”

The plan is to get Rodriguez a few minutes Wednesday against the Terriers, dependent upon how his foot feels following practice Monday and Tuesday.

In Rodriguez’s absence, Lucas N’Guessan has come into his own. A 7-foot-1 senior who transferred from Oklahoma State a couple of years ago, N’Guessan averaged 11.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game while Rodriguez was out. N’Guessan had 15 points and 15 rebounds in last Saturday’s win over Samford.

“Lucas has really blossomed,” Forbes said. “Lucas has always been a good offensive player with his back to the basket and facing up, but he’s become more of an efficient rebounder and a good defender in the post. All of those things have helped us get where we are.”

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