Then the second half happened.
The Bucs were up by 15 points at halftime and enjoying themselves. When they scored to open the second half, the lead was 17. That’s when the fun abruptly ended.
Samford outscored ETSU 17-4 over the next seven minutes and suddenly it was a game. When ETSU’s Isiah Tisdale and Jeromy Rodriguez both missed shots in the finals seconds, regulation time finished with the game tied at 70.
The Bucs rallied to score the last 11 points in overtime, including going 6 for 6 from the foul line, to win 81-72.
Afterward they were shaking their heads.
“That’s something we have to fix,” Rodriguez said. “From now on, every game is going to be a close game.”
The two teams meet again Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the Pete Hannah Center in Birmingham, Alabama. ETSU comes in having won nine of its last 10 games and sits at 17-5 overall, 7-2 in the Southern Conference. Samford is 13-9 overall, 3-6 in the SoCon.
The Bulldogs are coming off a memorable trip to South Carolina, where they lost to first-place Wofford 107-106 in overtime and beat Furman 75-73.
“It’s going to be a hard game, and confidence is a funny thing,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said. “They didn’t have a lot of confidence going into last week, but they had a tough loss at Wofford and they beat Furman. They’re confident now. They’re playing really well.”
ETSU sophomore guard Patrick Good set a school record with 11 successful 3-point shots in the team’s last outing, a 91-69 victory over Western Carolina.
“My confidence hasn’t changed,” said Good, who finished with 35 points. “Even being in the slump I’ve been in, every shot I shoot, I think it’s going in. My teammates do, too. My confidence isn’t a roller coaster.”
The Bulldogs have three of the top 16 scorers in the SoCon, led by guard Josh Starkey, who averages 16.0 points per game. Seven-footer Reuben Guerrero averages 14.0 and Brandon Austin averages 13.6.
“Sharkey’s playing like an all-league guard, and that’s really saying something, considering the players in our league right now,” Forbes said.
ETSU, meanwhile, spreads its scoring around so much that its leading scorer Tray Boyd III (12.8 points per game) barely cracks the top 20 at No. 20.
Samford’s Kevion Nolan has made 30 of 59 shots from 3-point range to lead the SoCon at 50.8 percent. Austin makes 45 percent, including sinking 22 of his last 44 over the past five games.
‘ARE YOU STEPPING TO ME?’
The last time ETSU saw Samford coach Scott Padgett, he was in an interesting confrontation with official Karl Hess.
Hess charged Padgett and said something, causing Padgett to yell at SoCon Commissioner John Iamarino, who was sitting at press row.
Afterward, Padgett made national news with his version of the story. When asked what would have happened had his assistants not gotten in front of Hess, Padgett said “I literally said, ‘Are you stepping to me right now?’ ”
The saying was good enough to be immortalized on T-shirts printed and handed out at a recent Samford game.