Kingsport Times-News: Bucs look for redemption against The Citadel
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Bucs look for redemption against The Citadel

Joe Avento • Jan 10, 2019 at 12:06 AM

JOHNSON CITY — It’s been 324 days since East Tennessee State and The Citadel met on the basketball court. For ETSU coach Steve Forbes, Thursday night’s game between the two schools in Charleston, South Carolina, is a chance at redemption of sorts.

Last season, the Bucs closed the regular season with three losses in a row. While the results against Wofford and Furman — two upper-echelon Southern Conference teams — could be forgiven, Forbes says a loss to The Citadel still sticks with him.

“That’s one we needed to get,” Forbes said of the 84-82 defeat at Freedom Hall. “That was a hard loss, probably the worst one for me personally.”

As it turned out, the losing streak was a killer for ETSU. Not only did it keep the Bucs from winning the SoCon’s regular-season title, it kept them from earning a bid to the NIT.

Forbes said ETSU probably deserved to lose the game against The Citadel in Charleston earlier in the season when they escaped with a 73-71 victory as Alex Reed’s last-second, wide-open 3-point try was off the mark. The Bucs went 2 for 23 from 3-point range and gave up 11 3-pointers to the Bulldogs.

“We played bad,” Forbes said. “We should have lost that game, really. We did not play well.”

ETSU takes a five-game winning streak into Thursday’s 7 p.m. game at McAlister Field House. The Bucs are 13-4 overall, 3-1 in the Southern Conference.

The Bulldogs are 9-5 overall, 1-2 in the SoCon. They’ve lost their last three games, giving up at least 100 points in each of them. Their last two losses were 112-81 to Wofford and 101-85 to Furman.

The Citadel leads the country in scoring, averaging 96.8 points per game, and allows almost as many (86.9). Only Savannah State gives up more. No team makes more 3-pointers than the 13.8 the Bulldogs average.

“It’s a big challenge because it’s different,” Forbes said. “It’s not something we see all the time. It’s a different style and something we’re going to have to prepare for.”

SCOUTING THE BULLDOGS

The Citadel has a couple of graduate transfers in the starting lineup.

Lew Stallworth, a 6-foot-1 guard who previously played at UTEP and Rio Grande Valley, is averaging 18 points and 6.9 assists per game. He’s 10th nationally in assists. Connor Kern, a 6-foot-4 guard, came in from Arkansas State.

The Bulldogs are getting production from two holdovers as well.

Matt Frierson, a 6-foot-2 senior guard, is averaging 15.6 points per game. He recently surpassed 1,000 points for his career and ranks second in the country with 4.5 successful 3-point attempts per outing.

Zane Najdawi, a 6-foot-7 senior forward, is averaging 13.9 points.

ETSU RANKED

The Bucs made a move in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major poll, entering the rankings at No. 14 this week.

The SoCon has quite a presence in the poll with UNC Greensboro at No. 3, Furman at No. 5 and Wofford at No. 6.

BUCS IN THE STATS

ETSU forward Jeromy Rodriguez is fourth in the country in rebounding at 11.6 per game. Only four players have had more double-doubles than Rodriguez’s eight. He is also ETSU’s second-leading scorer at 11.4 points per game.

Tray Boyd leads the way at 12.4. ETSU continues to share the scoring load with eight players averaging at least 7.0 points per game.

The Bucs lead the country in rebounding margin, getting 13.8 more boards than their opponents. Michigan State is second at 11.9. Other notable teams in the top 10 below ETSU are Kentucky, North Carolina and Duke.

ON THE MOVE

Former ETSU player Julian Walters is playing at North Carolina Central and is second in the country in assist-to-turnover ratio. Walters, who left the ETSU program in midseason two years ago, has 42 assists and seven turnovers.

Walters initially transferred to Alabama A&M before winding up at N.C. Central, where he is averaging 4.3 points per game as a redshirt senior.

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