East Tennessee State got the big win it’s been chasing Wednesday night, beating LSU 74-63 in a non-conference basketball game at a very quiet Pete Maravich Assembly Center.
It’s the Bucs’ second win over a Southeastern Conference team under coach Steve Forbes, who beat Mississippi State in 2016. ETSU held the lead for more than 30 minutes and was up by as many as 23 points in the second half.
“We needed a signature win like this and we came here with that in mind,” Forbes said. “We did it. I thought we played so hard for 40 minutes. It was a team win.”
Afterward, the Bucs celebrated wildly in their locker room and Forbes allowed the several ETSU fans who made the trip to join in the party.
“They’re great kids,” Forbes said. “I’ve enjoyed coaching them. I’ve said that all along. I want to be able to see them smile like that. They deserved it.”
The result broke LSU’s 16-game non-conference home winning streak. The Tigers fell to 7-3 after suffering their first double-digit non-conference home loss in nine years. LSU also paid ETSU $100,000 for the game.
“Obviously a tough night,” said LSU coach Will Wade, who used to face the Bucs while at Chattanooga. “East Tennessee played tremendously. Give them credit. They had a great, great game plan. They shrunk the paint on us and just pinned their ears back and killed us on the offensive glass.”
The Bucs, who improved to 10-2, out-rebounded, out-hustled and out-played a team that had been ranked as high as 22nd in the country a couple of weeks ago. ETSU had 11 more rebounds than LSU and got 19 offensive rebounds.
“Even when things weren’t going good for us on offense, we played so hard on getting offensive rebounds and loose balls,” Forbes said. “Give our kids credit. A lot of that was just from playing hard. We dominated the hustle stats.”
Patrick Good led the Bucs with 19 points, including nine in a row in a stretch of 1:12 in the first half when ETSU began to take control of the game. Good made 5 of 9 from 3-point range.
“I’m speechless right now,” Good said. “We put the preparation in. We stuck to the game plan. We played hard and we played tough. We just did the things it takes to get a Power Five win. You just dream of being on that stage and being on the floor with a Power Five school and beating them on national television. We just wanted to put ourselves on the map.”
ETSU led 38-29 at halftime and never slowed down.
“It feels great,” said Bo Hodges, who had 13 points, nine rebounds and five assists for the Bucs. “I’ve been part of a lot of ‘almost’ teams in the three years I’ve been here. To finally get one, it feels really good.”
Jeromy Rodriguez added 12 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
Rodriguez’s dunk off a drive and dish from Hodges left the Bucs up 46-33 with 15:37 remaining. They stretched the lead to 49-33 on a 3-pointer by Isaiah Tisdale.
Suddenly, Wade was using timeouts to try to quell the momentum of the visiting team.
Moments later, Rodriguez returned the favor to a teammate with a behind-the-back bounce pass for a Lucas N’Guessan dunk. That put ETSU up 57-37 and sent the section of Bucs fans sitting behind the bench into a frenzy.
As the lead began to increase, Forbes’ anxiety began to go up as well. He admitted thinking back to the Xavier game a couple of years ago when the Bucs blew a 21-point lead in the second half.
“I started thinking about Xavier, I hate to admit it,” Forbes said. “I didn’t want my team to ever feel like that again. But we knew what we had to do and we did it. We played a great game, all 40 minutes. We knew we were going to have to withstand a punch, but we did.”
Emmitt Williams led LSU with 16 points. Skylar Mays added 13.
“ETSU is a quality team,” Mays said. “They are well coached and they had a great game plan for us. Honestly, they played way harder than us tonight.”
The Bucs play host to Cleveland State on Saturday at 4 p.m. in their next-to-last non-conference game. LSU plays at Southern Cal on Saturday.