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Sharing the load key to Bucs' success this season

Joe Avento • Mar 3, 2020 at 2:13 AM

JOHNSON CITY — The East Tennessee State men’s basketball team has established its own secret to success: be unselfish and spread the scoring load.

That combination has made the Bucs tough to defend and is a big reason they’re the top-seeded team in this week’s Southern Conference tournament.

Eight players have led the team in scoring at some point this season, including six getting at least 20 points in a game.

How can the opposing team know which player to try to shut down when the Bucs don’t even know who their main man will be on any given night? That’s the conundrum facing their opponents when the SoCon tournament starts this week.

The Bucs (27-4) open Saturday at noon against the winner of Friday night’s first-round game between VMI and Samford. The tournament is being played at Harrah’s Cherokee Center in Asheville, North Carolina.

“That’s one of the great things about this team,” said ETSU coach Steve Forbes. “It’s a different guy every night. One thing they’re good at doing, when somebody gets hot, they’re going to get them the ball. They’re going to find a way to get him open.”

Patrick Good was the latest to carry the load, and boy did his teammates find him on Saturday. The junior guard scored 17 points in a four-minute stretch to help the Bucs clinch the outright SoCon regular-season championship with a 68-67 victory over Western Carolina. He wound up scoring 24 of the team’s final 30 points in a performance that had even his coach fired up.

“I try to stay calm most of the game, but it was hard not get caught up in that,” Forbes said. “Once he got it going, you just thought every time he shot it it was just going in, and it did.”

Good, who transferred to ETSU from Appalachian State, already held the single-game school record with 11 made 3-pointers before Saturday’s game. Now he is part of Bucs folklore because of a super-human effort on a title-clinching day when his team needed it the most. Both of those performances, coincidentally, came against Western Carolina in successive seasons.

“I’m a relationship coach,” Forbes said. “I’m not telling you I’m the best X and O guy in the world, but I have a really strong relationship with my players on and off the court. To bring Pat back home was special. He’s had a stressful year. He’s had some times where he didn’t play well. He’s a new father. A lot of things on his plate.”

During Saturday’s postgame celebration, Good and Forbes joined in an emotional embrace. Both had tears in their eyes.

“He was thanking me for believing in him,” Forbes said. “I never, ever lost faith in him. Ever. Sometimes you just have to go find it.

“I feel that way about all those kids. I think it’s important to have strong relationships with your players. That allows us to coach them hard because deep down inside, they know we care about them.”

While Good stole the show, the fact that five seniors — Tray Boyd III, Isaiah Tisdale, Jeromy Rodriguez, Lucas N’Guessan and Joe Hugley — were all playing their final home game was nearly lost in the shuffle.

“Our seniors are just incredible,” Forbes said. “I wrote down one word for each kid. Tisdale: fierce. Rodriguez: motor. Boyd: unafraid. Hugley: leader. N’Guessan: steady.

“They all have a different strength and I think that made our team special this year.”

IN THE POLLS

The Bucs received 31 points in The Associated Press poll this week, placing them 29th.

They’re still No. 2 in the Mid-Major poll and 41st in the NET rankings, a formula used by the selection committee for the NCAA tournament. The latter ranking puts ETSU ahead of 12 schools from the Atlantic Coast Conference and 10 from the Southeastern Conference.

ETSU’s 27 wins are the most in the regular season in school history.

ODDS FOR THE TITLE

Kenpom.com lists ETSU as the favorite to win the SoCon tournament with a 39% chance of bringing the championship back to Johnson City. Furman was second at 25.7% and UNC Greensboro third at 19%. No other team got more than 6%.

Teamrankings.com has ETSU as a 43% favorite and Furman and UNCG virtually tied at 21%.

AT THE TOURNEY

The No. 1 seed has made the championship game in the past five SoCon tournaments. The only time it lost during that span was 2017 when ETSU beat top-seeded UNCG in the final.

The most recent time a No. 1 seed lost in the quarterfinals was 2006 when Appalachian State beat Georgia Southern.

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