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ETSU closes out key SoCon stretch at UNCG

Jeff Birchfield • Jan 8, 2020 at 2:30 PM

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Recent history isn’t on the side of the East Tennessee State men’s basketball team.

The Bucs (13-3, 2-1) will be looking for their first road win against UNC Greensboro since Feb. 6, 2016, when the Southern Conference teams meet Wednesday night at Greensboro Coliseum. Tipoff time is slated for 7 p.m.

The Spartans (12-4, 2-1) have won three straight home games in which they averaged 81.7 points and allowed just 49.

Isaiah Miller, a 6-foot junior guard, gives UNCG plenty of firepower with his 17.9 points per game average. James Dickey, a 6-10 senior forward, is a force inside with 8.4 rebounds per game.

Miller was a thorn in ETSU’s side when the teams met last February. His layup with five seconds left was the game-winner in a 60-59 victory.

“For everybody in our league, it’s a tough place to play,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said. “The most important thing they have is coach Wes Miller, who has done an unbelievable job since I’ve been in the league. Isaiah Miller, he’s the preseason Southern Conference player of the year and one of the best defensive players in the country. They do a great job turning defense into offense. They have great size and it will be a tough challenge going over there.”

It is a key matchup of teams trying to stay near the top of the league standings. Picked 1-2 in the preseason polls, both are coming off tough losses.

The Bucs struggled offensively in their past two games, winning 49-48 over Wofford and losing 65-56 to Furman. UNCG has shown an ability to score but gave up 98 points in a double-overtime loss to Wofford.

“We’ve been locked in defensively. I wouldn’t say we took a back seat offensively. We’ve gotten stagnant,” ETSU guard Patrick Good said. “We have to do better with our ball movement and play inside-out where we get it inside to our posts. I’m not too worried about it. I know my teammates will knock down shots.

“To execute in transition, that’s something we didn’t do well against Wofford and Furman.”

SEVERAL SIMILARITIES

ETSU and UNCG have faced two common nonconference opponents. Both lost to Kansas by 12 points and beat Appalachian State.

Both have marquee wins. ETSU defeated LSU 74-63. UNCG dropped Georgetown 65-61 in a game that saw former Gate City star Mac McClung held to nine points.

Both present tough matchups. The Spartans have Angelo Allegri, a 6-7 sophomore who scored 19 points against Wofford, and Malik Massey, a 6-3 guard, is good on both ends of the court. Bo Hodges is scoring at a 13.6 per-game clip, Jeremy Rodriguez is averaging 10.7 points and 7.9 rebounds a game and Tray Boyd III (13.4 ppg) is the Bucs’ second-leading scorer coming off the bench.

VENUE VARIETY

The Bucs rely heavily on outside shooting, having made 132 of 447 field goals from 3-point range. They go from playing at Furman’s compact gym to expansive Greensboro Coliseum, but Good believes the shooters will adjust accordingly.

“It’s just mental, playing in the different venues,” Good said. “Obviously, you want to shoot the same shot every single time you shoot it. The goal is the same and the distance is the same everywhere you go. Obviously with the backdrop they have, it’s a mental thing — but I’m ready to knock down some shots.”

WE KNOW WHAT WE HAVE TO DO’

The matchup is the final one in a three-game stretch against the SoCon’s predicted top contenders. Forbes has emphasized the game’s importance while not putting too much pressure on the team.

“Pressure is something you put on yourself,” Forbes said. “We know what we have to do to win the league. You have to win all your home games and win the majority of your games on the road. This is a game we need to win. It’s a big game, but it’s also early in January.”