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January has been good to Bucs during Forbes’ tenure

Joe Avento • Jan 14, 2019 at 12:24 AM

JOHNSON CITY — It’s January, so it must be time for the East Tennessee State men’s basketball team to make its move.

It’s the time of year Steve Forbes’ teams usually begin to figure out how to play with each other, and this year is no exception.

Saturday’s 72-68 overtime victory at Mercer was the Bucs’ 16th January victory in a row over the past three seasons. Last season, nine victories during the school record-tying 16-game winning streak came in January.

Overall at ETSU, Forbes is 26-5 in the year’s first month.

Forbes had to rebuild his entire roster with only two players who saw any action last year returning. The start of the season was a work in progress.

“It takes time,” he said. “I don’t think you can ever underestimate how much we get better over Christmas break. I don’t know how many teams go twice a day, but I think we just get better at that time.

“Our team gets rolling downhill.”

The Bucs are certainly rolling with seven wins in a row, even if the latest one was ugly. They were down 10 points in the second half against Mercer, missed 13 shots in a row at one point and couldn’t convert on two potential game-winning shots at the end of regulation.

Somehow, ETSU made enough plays in the extra session to win, just as it had done in the previous six overtime wins under Forbes, who hasn’t lost in OT while coaching ETSU.

“I think we have a pretty good feel about ourselves in overtime and late in the game,” Forbes said. “We don’t get rushed, get sped up, and we make plays. That’s how you do that.”

ETSU had been blowing other teams out since its last loss, at Illinois. This one was much different as Mercer played an inspired game in front of an enthusiastic crowd while ETSU made enough mistakes to lose.

Still, there’s no room for an explanation in the win column and the Bucs weren’t apologizing.

“At The Citadel, we played out of our minds, locking down defensively, and we shot well,” said Patrick Good, whose four free throws in the final 17 seconds iced the victory over Mercer.

“Every game’s not going to be like that, especially on the road. We’re going to get everybody’s best shot every single night. It’s just how we respond is how the outcome is going to be.”

ETSU has won 91 games since Forbes took over, the most by any team in the Southern Conference during that span.

After the total rebuild during the offseason, Forbes will have a totally new experience. Everybody except senior forward James Harrison is expected back next season.

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