ETSU used a balanced scoring attack with all five starters in double figures to pull away for a 91-67 Southern Conference victory over the short-handed Bulldogs on Wednesday night at Freedom Hall.
The victory was more methodical than the Bucs might have expected, but it still enabled them to improve to 22-4 overall, 11-2 in the SoCon. That kept them tied for first place with Furman, which beat Samford on Wednesday night.
It was the 13th loss in a row for The Citadel, which fell to 6-18, 0-13.
“I wasn’t very pleased with the way we came out and defended to start the game,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said. “I thought the second half we played the way we’re supposed to play.”
The Bulldogs, playing like they had nothing to lose, made shots from the start. They were still shooting above 60% more than 30 minutes into the game before cooling off to finish at 49%.
The hot shooting made for few chances at offensive rebounds and The Citadel didn’t get many. All but one of the Bulldogs’ 22 rebounds came on the defensive end. It was the first time in more than 10 years that the Bucs held an opponent with as few as one offensive rebound, and the one came in the final two seconds of the game.
SOLID SECOND HALF
ETSU, which led 38-32 at halftime, didn’t start pulling away until midway through the second half.
As has become the norm, Tray Boyd came alive to start the second half. Boyd, who went 1 for 5 in the first half, hit his first 3-pointer in the second half to give the Bucs a 47-37 lead, their first double-digit advantage of the night. Boyd had scored all 33 of his points over the past two games after halftime. This time nine of his 14 came in the second half.
The Bucs eventually led by as many as 28 points.
“We got it going,” said Daivien Williamson, who led the Bucs with 19 points. “We defended better in the second half and that’s always the difference for us. I think our intensity level was kind of low in the first half. We just had to play ETSU basketball.”
Williamson made his fourth consecutive start and the sophomore guard is starting to flash the form that had him picked as a preseason all-conference selection. Going 7 of 10 from the field, including making both of his 3-point shots, he also had five assists.
“I’m just being more aggressive, just being myself,” Williamson said.
Isaiah Tisdale had 15 points for ETSU, while Bo Hodges had 13 and Lucas N’Guessan added 12.
Williamson continually drove to the basket, leapt to challenge bigger defenders, and managed to score at the rim.
“I love his aggressiveness,” Forbes said. “His ability off the dribble … he puts so much pressure on the defense by being able to get in the lane. A lot of guys can get in the lane, but they can’t make a play. He’s got tremendous touch. Then when he starts making threes, it’s hard to guard him.”
BY THE NUMBERS
The Bulldogs were led by Fletcher Abee’s 16 points. Kaelon Harris had 14 and Tyson Batiste had 10. The Citadel went 10 of 24 from 3-point range.
ETSU shot 55%, going 9 of 21 on threes. The Bucs out-rebounded The Citadel 38-22 with N’Guessan getting nine.
ETSU forward Jeromy Rodriguez, who has missed 10 games in a row with an injured foot, was not wearing the protective boot that had been on his left foot. The Bucs are hoping to get their best rebounder back soon, but no timetable has been given for his return.
“He’s trying,” Forbes said. “He ran in the pool yesterday and he feels pretty good about it. We’re going to do another MRI on Monday and hopefully we don’t see anything and see where we go from there. We need him.”
The Bucs play at VMI on Saturday before the big one, Wednesday night’s home game against Furman.