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ETSU tops Wofford, clinches share of SoCon title

Joe Avento • Feb 27, 2020 at 12:36 AM

SPARTANBURG. S.C. — It took quite a second-half surge, but East Tennessee State found a way to win — a game and a championship.

Tray Boyd spurred a comeback and the Bucs used two spectacular plays down the stretch to beat Wofford 60-54 in a Southern Conference basketball game Wednesday night at Jerry Richardson Indoor Stadium.

ETSU won its eighth game in a row, clinched a share of the SoCon regular-season championship and earned the top seed in next week’s conference tournament. The Bucs are 26-4 overall, 15-2 in the SoCon.

They can clinch the title outright Saturday with a win at home over Western Carolina.

“We fought to the end,” said Boyd, who led the Bucs with 16 points and four steals. “We took punches and we kept fighting and kept swinging and we handled business tonight. It feels good.”

The title is ETSU’s 12th regular-season conference crown. They’ve won nine in the SoCon, two in the Ohio Valley Conference and one in the Atlantic Sun.

ETSU struggled much of the night but came through when it mattered most. Wofford stretched its lead to 40-26 midway through the second half before Boyd began to will the Bucs back. He made two jump shots off screens and then drilled a 3-pointer during what turned into an 18-4 ETSU run that eventually tied the game at 44 on a basket from Lucas N’Guessan.

“I’ve always been about taking big shots my whole life,” Boyd said. “I wasn’t scared to take the shots. My teammates wanted me to take those shots. They were good shots and they weren’t forced.”

PLAY OF THE YEAR

The Bucs took the lead for the first time in the second half on a play by N’Guessan that was as unlikely as it was spectacular as it was important.

The 7-foot center deflected a pass near mid court. Somehow, he grabbed the ball, dribbled a couple of times while going 50 feet — seemingly out of control with every giant step — and threw down an emphatic two-handed dunk. It put ETSU up 48-47 and it energized the Bucs.

“Lucas has never done that since I’ve been playing with him,” Boyd said. “Once he did that it showed me the passion he has and how much he wants to win. He made me go to another level because I saw it in his eyes how much he wanted this game.”

It was the first one-footed dunk of N’Guessan’s career and it gave the Bucs their first lead since 2-0. It might have been ETSU’s play of the year.

“Once I knocked it, I saw two guys beside me and I knew I just had to go,” N’Guessan said. “It worked out well. I don’t even know where I took off. I was just trying to give the team a spark.”

“It changed the game,” Forbes added. “For a 7-footer to steal the ball, dribble it down the court and dunk it, that was just an incredible play.”

CRUNCH TIME

After Wofford’s Messiah Jones scored to put his team back up, Isiah Tisdale lofted an alley-oop pass to Bo Hodges, who caught the ball in mid-air and slammed it through as he spun past the basket. The reverse dunk put the Bucs up 53-52 and Wofford never caught them.

The Terriers had a chance as Donovan Theme-Love went to the foul line for two shots and ETSU ahead 56-54. On Senior Night, one of Wofford’s three seniors missed both shots. Tisdale rebounded, was fouled and made two.

BY THE NUMBERS

Wofford, the defending SoCon champion, lost its sixth straight game and fell to 16-14 overall, 8-9 in the league.

Tisdale added 13 points for the Bucs, while N’Guessan had 12 points and nine rebounds. Boyd was 2 for 2 from the foul line, stretching his streak to 22 consecutive makes.

Wofford was led by Jones’ 19 points. The 6-foot-6 freshman has scored in double figures seven times this season and two of them came against ETSU.

Nathan Hoover added 11. The Terriers were 0 for 7 on 3-pointers in the second half and finished 4 for 19.

ETSU was 7 for 17 on 3-pointers and shot 43% overall after making 65% in the second half.

JEROMY’S BACK

ETSU’s Jeromy Rodriguez got into a game for the first time since Jan. 4. The senior forward, who is the Bucs’ best rebounder, had missed 13 games with an injured foot.

Rodriguez played 5 minutes and was credited with an assist.

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