East Tennessee State seized control of the Southern Conference race with a 75-66 victory over Furman in a game that lived up to its billing in both atmosphere and quality of play.
“I think the fans were treated to a great college basketball game tonight by two really good teams,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said.
In front of a sellout crowd of 6,177, the Bucs grabbed sole possession of first place in the SoCon at 13-2. They’re 24-4 overall with three games to go — two on the road — in the regular season.
Furman fell to 22-6, 12-3.
“It was two really good teams and a great league,” said Forbes, who gave his school priceless exposure by doing a live interview on ESPN following the game. “It was a good night to showcase the SoCon and East Tennessee State University.”
The Bucs led for the entire second half after Tray Boyd’s 3-pointer beat the halftime buzzer and put them up 35-32, but they were never able to get comfortable. The lead hovered between three and seven points for most of the second half. ETSU was ahead by 10 points just briefly in the closing minutes.
“Toward the end, I was thinking to myself we’ve got to hold on to this thing,” Forbes said. “I think we led pretty much the whole game and you don’t want to lose it now.”
Isaiah Tisdale led ETSU with 15 points, four assists and eight rebounds. Bo Hodges added 14 points, while Patrick Good had 13 and Boyd had 10.
It was Good’s second productive game in a row after a few scarce weeks. He made three 3-pointers in a second-half flurry that kept Furman at bay.
“I just want to give credit to my teammates for believing in me,” Good said. “Obviously the past month was frustrating, but they told me to keep shooting. I really appreciate that.”
After the game, Boyd slapped hands with the ETSU fans sitting courtside.
“It felt great,” he said. “Just playing out there in front of all those fans felt like a tournament game. It’s a collective unit. As a team we did it, and the fans, they gave so much energy also that I feel like they deserve a handshake too.”
Furman was led by Jordan Lyons, who scored 16 of his 18 points in the first half. Noah Gurley had 14 and Clay Mounce had 12.
The crowd was the largest to ever watch an ETSU game at Freedom Hall.
“Heck of an environment,” Furman coach Bob Ritchie said. “Unbelievable setup you guys have put together here. We’ll learn from this. It’s a hungry group.”
LYONS FOULS OUT
Lyons was called for his fourth foul with 13:45 left when he ran over Joe Hugley fighting through a screen. After a video review of the play, the foul stood and Lyons was forced out of the game.
He didn’t sit long, returning to the court 50 seconds later.
Lyons didn’t score again and fouled out with 4:51 remaining when he undercut Hugley, who made the basket and converted the old-fashioned 3-point play for a 65-59 ETSU lead.
Tisdale seemed to spend the entire game getting fouled. The Bucs senior guard drew nine fouls, a rarity.
He didn’t make the most of the opportunities, however. Tisdale went 3 for 7 from the foul line and spent much of the night trying to keep Lyons in check.
“I’m going to be sore,” Tisdale. “I’m definitely going to need an ice bath.”
Boyd quickly chimed in. “I don’t do ice,” he said.
BY THE NUMBERS
ETSU got the job done on the boards, out-rebounding the Paladins 41-24. Forbes had said his guards needed to get more involved, and they did.
In addition to Tisdale’s eight rebounds, Hodges had seven and Good had six.
The Bucs shot 48% from the field and went 8 for 25 from 3-point range. Furman shot 42% and was 6 of 22.
The Bucs head to Birmingham, Alabama, on Saturday for a SoCon game against Samford.
Furman plays host to Wofford.