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Second-half start boosts Bucs past Keydets

Jeff Birchfield • Jan 11, 2020 at 8:27 PM

JOHNSON CITY — A strong start to the second half gave the East Tennessee State men’s basketball team enough space to hold off VMI in Saturday’s Star Wars-themed game at Freedom Hall.

The Bucs, leading by five points at intermission, scored the first nine of the second half on their way to a 61-55 victory. 

Offense was often hard to come against the zone defense VMI employed most of the game. The Bucs (15-3, 4-1) went 4-for-5 from the field over the first 2:30 but shot 14-for-47 the rest of the game.

“Offense is confidence and I don’t know why our guys aren’t playing with a ton of confidence,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said. “I’ve always been a coach who recruited offense, coached defense and let our players play offense. We’re going through a tough time making shots and we can’t continue to win games shooting 30% from the field.

“With that being said, we played outstanding defense. I was worried about the game, not a letdown after beating UNC Greensboro. I was worried about VMI because they’re hard to guard.”

Patrick Good, who iced the win by hitting four late free throws, was ETSU’s leading scorer with 12 points. Vonnie Patterson, Tray Boyd III and Lucas N’Guessan each contributed 11 with Patterson going 4-of-5 from the field.

“We put a lot of time into (facing the zone) the last couple of days. We knew we had to keep the ball movement up,” said Patterson, who started in place of the injured Jeromy Rodriguez (foot). “I’ve been in the gym a lot lately trying to get my shot right. I’ve been focused on where to plant hard.

“I know Jeromy leaves a big spot to fill. I just have to play as hard as I can.”

N’Guessan, the Bucs’ 7-foot post player, had eight rebounds and made his presence known on the defensive end, helping hold VMI’s 6-9 Jake Stephens to two points in 17-plus minutes of action.

“We’re trying to get stops as much as we can where we can run as quickly as we want,” N’Guessan said. “We can’t get frustrated (with the offense). We have to trust ourselves, trust our teammates and I’m sure our shots will fall.”

Travis Evee led the Keydets (5-12, 0-4) with 13 points and Greg Parham had a dozen.

The Bucs scored the first nine points in both halves. In the first half, VMI stormed back and pulled back within a point, 11-10, and briefly took the lead before Boyd hit a 3-pointer that propelled ETSU to a 26-21 halftime lead.

The Bucs came out of the locker room inspired, and a 35-21 lead provided enough breathing room in the second half.

ETSU’s defense held VMI to a 19-of-48 showing from the field and forced 19 turnovers. VMI, which entered the day averaging a dozen 3-pointers a game, hit seven.

“One thing that really helped us today is we did a lot of run-and-jump full court and we turned them over 19 times,” Forbes said. “We didn’t let them walk the ball up on offense. We tried to take them out of their rhythm and we did a good job of that for most of the day.”

The Bucs host Samford on Wednesday at 7 p.m.