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Bucs cap regular season with 99th win in four years

Jeff Birchfield • Mar 3, 2019 at 1:18 AM

JOHNSON CITY — Tray Boyd III had the hot hand for the East Tennessee State men’s basketball team this time around.

The junior guard hit 8 of 11 shots from the field and scored a career-high 24 points on Saturday to lead the Bucs to an 81-74 win over Western Carolina in the regular-season finale at Freedom Hall.

“It was just a good night when I made shots,” Boyd said after going 6-of-9 from 3-point range. “Late in the game, they changed their lineup, we went small and we bounced back.”

The Bucs (23-6, 13-5 Southern Conference) won for the fourth time in the past five games. They earned the program’s 99th win over the last four years, tying a school record set by the 1988-92 teams. ETSU, the No. 4 seed in the SoCon tournament, will try to break that record next Saturday at 2:30 p.m. when it faces Chattanooga in the quarterfinal round.

“I’m proud of our team. To win 23 games in the regular season, that is a good accomplishment,” Bucs coach Steve Forbes said. “We had 23 wins and just two home losses to Greensboro and Wofford.”

Bo Hodges provided an all-around effort of 20 points, seven rebounds, four assists, three blocks and two steals for ETSU. Isaiah Tisdale scored 13 points, and post players Jeromy Rodriguez and Mladen Armus combined for nine assists.

Kameron Gibson led the Catamounts (7-24, 4-14) with 23 points. Marcus Thomas added 15 points and Marc Gosselin had 13 points and 11 rebounds.

ETSU hit 28 of 46 attempts (60.9 percent) from the field, including 9 of 17 (52.9 percent) from 3- point range. But they struggled at the free-throw line, converting 16 of 32 attempts.

“You put a lot of pressure on the offense when you go 16-of-32 from the free-throw line,” Forbes said. “That continually puts pressure on you to play offense at a high level and to defend. Something has to change or we’re not going to win three games in a row (at the SoCon tournament).”

SLUGGISH START

Despite playing in front of an enthusiastic crowd listed at 5,520, the Bucs fell behind 9-2 in the opening minutes. ETSU responded with seven straight points to tie, and neither team created much distance for the rest of the half. Tisdale came up with a steal and layup with five seconds left in the half for a 34-31 ETSU lead at the break.

“We didn’t start out with any energy. I don’t know why,” Hodges said. “We came out in the second half and we knew were in a dogfight.”

The Bucs didn’t pull away until the final five minutes of the game.

LOCAL LOOKS

ETSU romped to an easy victory in the team’s previous meeting 91-69 at Western when Patrick Good had a school-record 11 3-point goals and a career-high 35 points. Plagued by a hip injury, this time the David Crockett product played 16 minutes and scored three points, all coming on free throws in the final minute.

Kingsport native Matt Halvorsen finished with eight points for the Catamounts.

THE SERIES

The Bucs have won 25 of the series’ last 26 games.

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