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Wofford win sets up SoCon battle with Bucs

Jeff Birchfield • Mar 9, 2020 at 12:42 AM

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — East Tennessee State senior guard Tray Boyd III had a message for teammates Isaiah Tisdale and Daivien Williamson as they exited the media room Sunday at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center.

“One more to go, boys. At least for this tournament,” Boyd said.

Fresh off a 97-75 blowout of Western Carolina in Sunday’s Southern Conference basketball semifinals and school-record 29th win of the season, there was little time to celebrate. Instead, the top-seeded Bucs (29-4) quickly turned their attention to Monday night’s championship game against seventh-seeded Wofford.

The Terriers (19-15) advanced to the final with a dramatic 72-70 victory over Chattanooga. Storm Murphy made a move to get Mocs defender Maurice Commander in the air and made an off-balance, game-winning shot from the free-throw line with 3.2 seconds left.

Now, the Bucs will try for a season sweep after both regular-season games against the Terriers went down to the wire.

Isaiah Tisdale came up with a steal in the closing seconds to preserve a 49-48 ETSU win on New Year’s Day in Johnson City. The Bucs trailed much of a Feb. 26 game in Spartanburg, South Carolina, before pulling ahead late for a 60-54 victory.

“We’ve had two battles with them,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said. “We had a donnybrook, 49-48 football score in the first game. They really kicked our tails over there for probably 25 minutes. The last 15 minutes, we went on a tear. They have guys like (Nathan) Hoover, Storm Murphy, Trevor Stumpe, (Chevez) Goodwin who were all here last year.”

One player Forbes didn’t mention was Messiah Jones, who led the Terriers in both games against the Bucs. He came off the bench to score 18 in Johnson City and had 19 points and eight rebounds in the rematch.

In Sunday semifinal’s win, Murphy led the Terriers with 15 points. Tray Hollowell totaled 12, Jones 11 and Goodwin 10. Wofford was deadly from the outside, going 11-for-20 from 3-point range.

Wofford coach Jay McCauley sees the final as coming down to the basics.

“They have a lot of firepower, a lot of shooting, but we can shoot it, too,” McCauley said. “It’s going to come down to who shares the ball and takes care of the ball the best. The rebounds are always a big factor in who wins and loses our games with them. It’s always a defensive, physical battle and our team will play with that mentality.”

NO SURPRISE TO FORBES

Forbes wasn’t shocked to see the Nos. 6 and 7 seeds advance in the tournament.

“It’s a testament to the depth of our league that Wofford and Chattanooga made the semifinals,” Forbes said. “We’ve been saying it all year how good and how deep the league is. I think for us, the thing I’m most proud of is that we’ve made the championship (game) four of our five years. That’s a pretty good testament to what we have as a program and culture at East Tennessee State.”

Boyd echoed that sentiment — and got a fist bump from Forbes — when explaining why the Bucs are prepared for any opponent.

“The way we practice is way harder than the game. The game slows down for us,” Boyd said.

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