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Bucs aim to fete seniors with special prize: outright SoCon championship

Joe Avento • Feb 29, 2020 at 11:30 AM

JOHNSON CITY — Five seniors will be honored before the East Tennessee State men’s basketball game against Western Carolina on Saturday. If things go the way the Bucs hope, there will be an even bigger celebration afterward.

ETSU (26-4, 15-2) would clinch the Southern Conference regular-season championship with a victory over the Catamounts (18-10, 10-7). Tipoff is set for 4 p.m. at Freedom Hall. Another large crowd is expected, so the doors will open at 2:30 p.m.

“We got 40 more minutes of regular-season basketball,” said Tray Boyd III, 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 by beating Wofford on Wednesday night.

The Bucs could still win the outright crown with a loss, but they 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 team is ranked second in the Mid-Major poll and takes an eight-game winning streak into the game. “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 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.

SENIOR DAY

In addition to Boyd, ETSU is honoring 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.

SOCON TOURNEY

The Bucs will open SoCon tournament play Saturday, March 7 at noon with a quarterfinal matchup against the winner between VMI and Samford, which play the night before.

The tournament is being played at the same venue with a new name: Harrah’s Cherokee Center.

BO MILESTONE

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 coming off a 109-78 victory over Samford.

ETSU beat the Catamounts 85-66 in Cullowhee, North Carolina, in January. Western Carolina didn’t have the services of Carlos Dotson, one of the conference’s top big men, who averages 15.5 points and 10.0 rebounds per game.

Northern Kentucky transfer Mason Faulkner leads Western in scoring at 17.5 ppg and Onno Stegner, who made seven 3-pointers against Samford, at 12.1 ppg. Kingsport native Matt Halverson averages 10.1 ppg and is one of the top 3-point and free-throw shooters in the SoCon.

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