With head coach Steve Forbes and his family headed to Iowa after the death of his father, Lowell, the Bucs fell 102-94 to Green Bay in the Collegeinsider.com Postseason Tournament on Wednesday night at Freedom Hall.
“It was definitely tough,” said freshman point guard Daivien Williamson, who led the Bucs with 19 points and seven assists. “I was very saddened to hear the news. The whole team was.”
ETSU was under-manned, with three starters on the bench. Patrick Good had already been shut down as he prepares for hip surgery. Then, word came that big men Jeromy Rodriguez and Mladen Armus wouldn’t play because they were both in concussion protocol.
That accounted for 47 percent of the team’s rebounding and its top 3-point shooter, and it left fill-in coach Jason Shay at a distinct disadvantage.
“You can’t make excuses,” Shay said. “Injuries are part of the game. It’s unfortunate it happened at this time of year, but it’s got to be ‘next man up,’ mentality. We still gave ourselves a chance to win.”
Shay mixed and matched his lineup, going with five guards at one point in the second half.
When Green Bay jumped out to an 18-point lead in the first half, it looked like the Bucs would be blown out. Instead, they rallied — and even took a late nine-point lead — before faltering down the stretch as the Phoenix closed the game on a 21-4 run.
“I thought our guys did a great job there at the end battling back,” Green Bay coach Linc Darner said. “We’ve struggled on the road a little bit this year so hopefully that will be a good sign for us.”
ETSU ended the season 24-10. Green Bay advanced and improved to 18-16.
Sandy Cohen III, a Marquette transfer, scored 29 points to lead Green Bay and was announced as the MVP of the game, called the Hugh Durham Classic, as part of the CIT.
SPREADING THE WEALTH
In addition to Williamson’s big night, reserve guard Kevon Tucker had a career-high 17 points, going 5 of 7 on 3-pointers. Isaiah Tisdale added 16, while Tray Boyd III had 14 and Bo Hodges 12 before fouling out late.
By halftime, the Phoenix had missed just nine shots while shooting 72 percent, including going 9 of 13 from 3-point range. ETSU was shooting 53 percent — 7 for 17 on 3-pointers — usually good enough for a halftime lead.
That all added up to a 59-49 halftime advantage for Green Bay.
“We struggled to defend and you can’t do that this time of year,” Shay said. “You have to have some toughness about you. We talked about being a fierce competitor.”
ETSU clawed back as the second half began. Hodges finally got the Bucs even at 77-77 with an up-and-under layup with 9:28 left. Half a minute later, Tisdale’s layup gave ETSU its first lead of the night, 79-77.
Tisdale then made another layup and a 3-pointer. He scored 10 of ETSU’s 13 points during the comeback. The only points he didn’t score — a 3-pointer from Williamson — came on a Tisdale assist.
ETSU led 90-81 before the Phoenix scored nine in a row to regain the lead. That was the start of the game-ending run.
“We started relaxing,” Williamson said. “When we came back, we were fierce on both ends of the court. We relaxed and that’s when they went on their run.”
THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS
The team didn’t learn Forbes would be gone until midday Wednesday.
“It was hard,” Shay said. “It was hard for me to adjust the team at shoot-around. Our thoughts and prayers are with him. Sincere condolences for Coach Forbes and his family.
“It was tough to receive that type of news on game day and especially seven hours before we play. It was difficult.”
Cohen was one of five Green Bay players in double-digits. JayQuan McCloud had 19 points, followed by Josh McNair with 16, ShanQuan Hemphill with 15 and Cody Schwartz with 11.