Fortunately for ETSU, it was still the regular season.
Isaiah Miller scored on a drive with 3.8 seconds remaining and UNCG beat the Bucs for the second time this season, 60-59.
“We had guarded them well all game and it comes down to us needing one stop to win the game,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said. “Miller made a big-time shot with our best defender on him. It wasn’t like it was uncontested. You just have to shake his hand.”
Neither team led by more than two points over the final 4½ minutes. After winning a game that had seven ties and 11 lead changes, the Spartans (24-5, 13-3) took a major step toward clinching the No. 2 seed in the SoCon tournament. ETSU (22-8, 12-5) might have to settle for the fourth spot. The Bucs fell into a virtual tie with Furman for third place but, should both teams win out, the Paladins would hold the tiebreaker over ETSU thanks to a win over UNCG.
Jeromy Rodriguez led the Bucs with 16 points and 17 rebounds, but he was left with “what-ifs” afterward. The junior forward missed seven of his 11 free throws, which was a fatal blow in such a close game. Rodriguez went in shooting 72 percent from the line.
“I missed a lot of free throws,” Rodriguez said. “That’s why we lost the game. They weren’t going in. Some days you’re going to have bad games. You have to have confidence in yourself and move onto the next game.”
Miller, whose 13 points led UNCG, scored his team’s final four, both on drives into the paint. His first one put his team up 58-57 with 47 seconds left. After ETSU’s Daivien Williamson made a pair of free throws to put the Bucs back up, Miller connected again with what proved to be the winner.
Hodges’ inbound pass didn’t seem to have a chance to connect with a teammate.
“We weren’t trying to score on that play,” Forbes said. “We were really trying to throw it to halfcourt and call time out. There would be two-something left and we could run something from there and try to get a good shot. I thought we had a chance to get something better.”
BY THE NUMBERS
Tray Boyd III added 11 points for ETSU, which also got 10 points and four assists from Williamson. The Bucs outrebounded UNCG 35-30.
Francis Alonso and Demetrius Troy finished with 12 points apiece for the Spartans. James Dickey had 11 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out in the final minute.
The Spartans led by as many as seven points in the first half and appeared poised to pull even further ahead. Instead, Williamson gave the Bucs a lift, using his speed and deceptiveness to get to the basket a step ahead of UNCG’s big men. He had eight points in the first half and UNCG’s lead was 35-34 at halftime.
ETSU needed Williamson’s spark after Hodges, who was coming off a big game and off to a good start, picked up his third foul 10:21 into the game.
Hodges was called for his fourth foul with 15:24 left in the game and it became apparent the Bucs would have to try to win without much of a contribution from one of their most athletic players. Hodges scored six of ETSU’s first eight points and that’s where he finished while being limited to 13 minutes.
ETSU closes the regular season Saturday with a home game against Western Carolina, It’ll be Senior Day and the Bucs’ only senior, reserve forward James Harrison, will be honored.
UNCG has two games left, Thursday at The Citadel and Saturday at Mercer.