But when the final horn sounded, it was a thing of beauty for East Tennessee State basketball coach Steve Forbes.
The Bucs handed Wofford its first Southern Conference loss in two years Wednesday, a 49-48 decision at Freedom Hall, and they did it with defense.
“We found a way to win,” Forbes said. “It’s not ugly when you win. Defensively we were fabulous.”
It was only the second time since the 1950 that ETSU won a game while scoring fewer than 50 points.
Patrick Good led ETSU with 12 points, making four shots from 3-point range in the second half. ETSU held Wofford’s two top scorers Storm Murphy and Nathan Hoover to a combined eight points. They shot 3-22 from the field between them.
The Bucs improved to 13-2 overall, 2-0 in the SoCon, and they broke a four-game losing streak to Wofford despite turning the ball over and missing the front end of a one-and-one in the final 34 seconds.
ETSU’s Bo Hodges threw the ball away against the Wofford press with 34 seconds left and the Bucs nursing a 49-46 lead.
After Messiah Jones scored for the Terriers with 19 seconds left to make it a one-point game, Good, an 81% free throw shooter, missed from the line with 13 seconds on the clock, giving Wofford a chance to win.
“For me, even though I hit those threes, the free throws are going to hang over my head, so I have to get in the gym so the next time I can be successful in that situation,” Good said. “They have the ultimate confidence in me, and I have the ultimate confidence in myself, so I have to step up and knock it down next time, which I will.”
As the Terriers tried to run a play in the closing seconds, Bucs center Lucas N’Guessan stepped up to defend and Isaiah Tisdale tipped the ball. The horn sounded as the ball was loose, and the Terriers never managed to get off a potential game-winning shot.
“It feels great,” Tisdale said. “We haven’t beat them in two years. We’re just really excited we got a big win.”
It was a fitting ending to a game in which both teams started cold, combining to miss 16 of their first 17 shots.
“I think it’s two teams that really know each other well,” Wofford coach Jay McAuley said. “We’ve had a lot of wars over the years. We have a lot of respect for those guys and Coach Forbes and what he does with his team and how tough they are.
“Listen, they got pieces all over the court. For our guys to battle like that and put ourselves in position to win, that’s all I can ask for.”
Jones, a reserve forward, led Wofford with 18 points and nine rebounds. The Terriers were hurt by foul trouble, especially on Trevor Stumpe and Chevez Goodwin, two starters who each played fewer than 16 minutes.
The Bucs led 21-18 at halftime after holding Wofford to 21% shooting. The problem was they weren’t shooting much better, 35%.
“I felt at halftime the way we were defending, we should have been up double digits,” Forbes said. “We weren’t because we just played so poorly offensively, which is kind of surprising because we’re a really good offensive team.”
The Bucs pulled ahead by 12 in the second half before Wofford used a 10-0 run to get back in it. The Terriers never could catch up. ETSU actually held the lead for the final 24:03.
Wofford, which beat North Carolina earlier this season, fell to 8-6, 0-1. The Terriers had won their last 21 games against SoCon teams.
“I don’t like the way we finished the game,” Forbes said. “You can’t do that. But in conference play, you take the win and move on, and that’s where we’re at.”
It doesn’t get any easier for ETSU, which plays at Furman on Saturday in the second of what is expected to be three consecutive crucial SoCon games. The Bucs then play at UNC-Greensboro on Jan. 8.