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Forbes' Bucs still wondering ‘what could have been’

Joe Avento • Apr 2, 2020 at 6:00 PM

JOHNSON CITY — The sudden and premature end to the college basketball season left East Tennessee State’s players wondering what could have been. It’s a question that will never be answered, but one they might ask themselves every day.

After winning the Southern Conference tournament, the Bucs were getting ready for the upcoming Selection Sunday when the NCAA Tournament was canceled as a precaution because of the spread of the novel coronavirus.

March Madness quickly became March Sadness for everybody in college basketball. That was especially so for this record-setting group that had won more games than any other team in ETSU history and had its sights set on a deep national tournament run.

“That is something that plays in my head every day,” said Tray Boyd, a senior guard who led the team in scoring for the second year in a row. “I say what could have been. We’re 30-4 going into the tournament. I feel like with our team and the way we played together, we would have run through a couple of teams. It’s always going to sit in the back of my mind — what could have been.”

Steve Forbes’ fifth season was different than his previous four. They have all been successful, but this team played differently. It defended at a championship level. With a win over LSU and a close call at Kansas, it wasn’t afraid of facing the so-called big boys. It had many of the pieces needed to win in the NCAA Tournament.

“Every day me and the guys still talk about it,” junior guard Bo Hodges said. “We could be practicing right now or being with each other. We haven’t been with each other since the championship game. We talk about it all the time. It’s tough.

“We’ll never know. We had a great team. We had some great wins. We could have gone into the NCAA Tournament and won some big games. We’ll never know if we could have won those games.’’

Boyd and Hodges were both All-Southern Conference picks and were named mid-major All-Americans, nice individual accomplishments. But the disappointment of how their special season ended will likely never completely go away.

Boyd, for one, has chosen to look ahead.

“I’ve gotten over it,” said Boyd, who plans to play professional basketball nest season. “I kind of got over it the first couple of days just because it’s not the end for me. It sucks to not play, but we won. We ended our season on a win and a championship, so I’m not too mad.”

Hodges, who reached 1,000 career points in the SoCon tournament, has another year, so he has one more chance to play in the NCAA Tournament. The Bucs appear to be loaded again next season, but nobody’s taking anything for granted.

“I’m really not over it,” Hodges said. “Some people might not ever get the chance to go to the NCAA Tournament and experience what other people in the past have experienced. I have another year, but the seniors don’t get to come back. Even me, there’s a chance we might not make it back next year.”

When the NCAA made the announcement to cancel its tournament, it was a stunner. Most people were hoping for a postponement. The initial shock was soon replaced by understanding once the players saw the scope of the pandemic.

“We were all kind of shocked that they canceled it,” Boyd said. “Then we learned how serious this virus was. When they did that — because the NCAA is going to lose a lot of money canceling the tournament — they’re only going to do that for one reason and that’s a serious one. We were disappointed, but we understood.”

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