With ETSU starter Jeromy Rodriguez a late scratch after reaggravating a nagging foot injury, Hughley came through with a 14-point, nine-rebound performance.
“It’s just staying ready. I tell my teammates that all the time,” Hughley said. “I tell them they have to stay the course. Tonight, my name was called and I was ready.”
The Bucs were ready to take advantage of a UNCG meltdown at the end.
Leading 58-57, ETSU guard Isaiah Tisdale drew a foul on a push off by the Spartans’ Isaiah Miller with 23.8 seconds left. Coach Miller objected to the call and drew the first of two technical fouls. He was ejected after the second, allowing the Bucs to push the lead to six points.
“I don’t have any comment about the officiating,” Coach Miller said. “We’re certainly frustrated with the result. East Tennessee State is a heckuva basketball team, and they stayed in the game when we were able to push the lead out a couple of times. We knew going in that it was going to be a battle. They’re picked to win the league for a reason.”
The Bucs improved to 14-3 overall and 3-1 in the conference by winning for the first time in Greensboro since Feb. 6, 2016. The Spartans fell to 12-5, 2-2 despite a 24-point effort from Isaiah Miller. It ended a three-game gauntlet for ETSU of facing top contenders Wofford, Furman and UNC Greensboro.
“It’s nice to come out of this stretch 2-1. It’s the hardest stretch any team in the league has had to this point,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said. “We will take this win against a really good team. We’ve played three outstanding teams who can defend and know us, so that’s probably why our offensive numbers are down. We have much respect for UNCG. They’re one of the premier programs in the country and it’s a really big win for us.”
The Bucs’ offensive performance was flat-out ugly in the first half, scoring eight points over the first 14 minutes. They ended the half with 12 turnovers, while making seven made field goals and going 1-for-7 from 3-point range to trail 31-23 at the break.
They opened the second half on a 10-2 run with Bo Hodges tying the game with a 3-point goal with 15:03 left.
After scoring two points in the first half, Hodges turned it around the second 20 minutes to finish with 13 points. Tray Boyd III added 11 points and Patrick Good ended with nine.
“Coach always tells me to keep my confidence,” Hodges said. “You’re going to make shots, you’re going to miss shots, but you’ve got to keep shooting. Coach told us what we were doing wrong at halftime. We made some adjustments and came out and fixed them.”
Forbes appreciated the resiliency of his team, which trailed by as many as 12 points in the first half. They had six turnovers the second half, the same number as the Spartans.
“I thought for the most part we did a good job keeping it in single digits in the first half,” Forbes said. “It got to a point where it could have gotten away from us, but we kept it to eight at halftime. We learned a lot from the Furman game where we made a run and got back in it. We stayed tough minded and didn’t wilt tonight.”
ETSU will return home to face VMI on Saturday at 4 p.m. UNC Greensboro plays at Furman on Saturday.