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SoCon-leading Bucs welcome streaking Bears

Joe Avento • Jan 29, 2020 at 3:30 PM

JOHNSON CITY — With his team all alone atop the Southern Conference men’s basketball standings, East Tennessee State coach Steve Forbes is enjoying the view.

But he’s certainly not satisfied, not with 10 regular-season games and the conference tournament still to play.

“I don’t think we’re playing our best basketball yet,” Forbes said. “I really don’t. We’re creeping toward it because the offense is starting to come. The defense has been solid all year, man. The offense has been kind of hot and cold and it’s starting to come consistently. When it does, then I think we can get the things we want to achieve.”

Mercer is up next for ETSU. They meet Wednesday at 7 p.m. inside Freedom Hall.

The Bucs (18-3, 7-1) are 12-0 at home this year. The Bears (10-11, 4-4) have won their past four games.

“They’re going to be hard to play, especially on offense,” Forbes said. “They defend. I know it’s going to be a tough, tough battle. They’re all going to be now. This league’s good. Nobody’s taking anybody for granted and we’ll be ready to go.”

After struggling to score over a four-game stretch, ETSU’s offense has been on the uptick, averaging more than 80 points a game the past three. That has been the result, in part, to ball security. The Bucs average 12.2 turnovers a game, but they’ve kept that number in single digits the last four.

“I think we can get better,” Forbes said.

ETSU has won 10 games in a row against Mercer.


The Bucs have been inching toward the Top 25 in The Associated Press poll. They were 31st this week. They’re also up to fourth in the latest Mid-Major poll.

“Our guys, we haven’t really discussed it,” Forbes said. “I think it would be special to get ranked and here’s why. Early, sometimes you get ranked sometimes because of just one win. Consistency is the key and it’s the hardest thing to do. I think for the five years we’ve been here we have been very consistent. If we can get to be ranked at 18-3 or whatever, that says we’ve been consistent.

“That would be the thing I would be most proud of.”


The Bucs have shared the scoring load so well that their leading scorer, Bo Hodges, ranks 15th in the SoCon. He’s averaging 13.5 points per game.

Hodges was named the SoCon player of the week following his career-high, 27-point performance against Chattanooga, a game in which he also grabbed eight rebounds and had five steals.

Tray Boyd averages 13.0 and is 17th in the league.

The Bucs will be without Jeromy Rodriguez again. The senior forward — and ETSU’s biggest inside presence — will miss his fifth straight game with a foot injury.

ETSU forces opponents into turnovers on 23.8% of all possessions, the 28th-highest rate in the country. Mercer has turned the ball over on 21% of its possessions, ranking 286th among Division I teams.


Djordje Dimitrijevic averages 18.1 points per game and Ethan Stair 16.1, making the seniors the top scoring duo in the SoCon.

The 6-foot-4 Stair also averages 8.8 rebounds a game, ranking second in the SoCon.

Jeff Gary, a 6-4 sophomore transfer from UNC Wilmington, averages 10.7 points per game.

Ross Cummings, an all-conference guard last year, has missed the Bears’ last seven games with an ankle injury.

Mercer has a new coach, Greg Gary, who spent the past eight years working under Matt Painter at Purdue. Gary replaced Bob Hoffman, the man ETSU fans loved to hate.

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