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Bucs starting to put it all together

Joe Avento • Jan 7, 2019 at 12:30 AM

JOHNSON CITY — Now that East Tennessee State’s men’s basketball team is beginning to make some outside shots, it’s looking pretty dangerous.

The Bucs are on a five-game winning streak and if they plan to continue it, they’ll likely need more performances like the one they put together in a 96-70 victory against Chattanooga on Saturday.

Making 9 of 18 shots from 3-point range can loosen up any defense, and that was the key to their sixth win in a row against their in-state rival.

ETSU’s inside game has been there all season, with Jeromy Rodriguez and Mladen Armus dominating in the paint and the recent addition of 7-footer Lucas N’Guessan. Throw in just a little bit of outside shooting — lacking in the early part of the season — and it’s a recipe for a versatile offense.

With Tray Boyd III, Patrick Good and Kevon Tucker doing most of the damage from the perimeter, the Bucs are truly developing the “inside-out” game they want to have.

It was something Bucs coach Steve Forbes predicted in the preseason. It’s just taken awhile to materialize.

“The ball don’t lie,” said Forbes, whose team is 13-4. “I saw it all summer. I saw it when I recruited them. It’s going to go in the hole.”

Boyd had his most efficient shooting game of the season on Saturday. The left-hander made 7 of his 9 shots and 4 of 5 3-point tries. He’s scored 41 points in the last two games after going 0-for-4 against Furman.

“Tray’s been a little inconsistent, but now he’s starting to get it,” Forbes said. “Some of that is he knows where his shots are coming from.”

Tucker has combined for six 3-pointers over the past two games. The recent uptick in accuracy has pushed the Bucs to fifth in the Southern Conference in 3-point percentage. They’re making 36 percent as a team.

Good still leads the way as the only ETSU regular shooting better than 40 percent from long range.

Tucker and Boyd have both been coming off the bench and gave the offense a much-needed boost over the past two games. ETSU’s reserves have outscored their last two opponents’ backups 98-33.

“This team is deep,” Forbes said. “We can go in a lot of different directions.”

Remember, the ETSU roster practically had a complete makeover from last season, so it’s natural that it would take some time to jell. As the players have become more comfortable in their offense, the results have spoken for themselves.

Not only have they won five games in a row since losing at Illinois, they’ve done it in dominating fashion. Their average margin of victory during the streak has been almost 23 points.

Having 22 assists on 36 baskets against Chattanooga made Forbes smile. Several times the Bucs made the extra pass, forgoing an open shot for a better one. Ten players had at least one assist.

It’s something that has been brewing during their winning streak.

“We share the ball,” Boyd said. “We have a lot of shooters. We know if we share the ball, good things can happen.”

One reason they share the ball so well is when they give it up, they know they’ll get it back.

“They trust each other,” Forbes said. “They know if they make the extra pass that somebody’s going to make a shot. It’s something that we work on and we stress.

“You have to trust it. Every good team I’ve been a part of has done that, trusted the ball. They’re getting there.”

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