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Big win over LSU will go a long way for Bucs

Joe Avento • Dec 20, 2019 at 6:30 AM

BATON ROUGE, La. — Steve Forbes gave his players 24 hours to enjoy their thorough victory over LSU, but the effects of East Tennessee State’s accomplishment will last a lot longer than that.

The 74-63 victory was one of the ETSU basketball program’s biggest wins ever. If the Bucs go on to do anything special this year, they’ll look back at Wednesday night as a turning point.

The LSU game proved that they can not only play with teams from major conferences, but they can win. The Bucs did it in convincing fashion and never looked afraid of the moment.

For Jeromy Rodriguez, the result was affirmation that he made the right choice. After last season, Rodriguez announced he was leaving ETSU with a year of eligibility remaining. The 6-foot-7 forward from the Dominican Republic had graduated and was going to turn professional and play overseas.

Luckily for ETSU, he changed his mind and returned for his final season.

“It feels amazing,” Rodriguez said. “I can’t describe this feeling right now. In the last three years, we had many opportunities to get the job done, against Xavier, Kentucky, Kansas, Creighton, and we just couldn’t finish the game. We made it happen today. It took a lot of effort, man, but we did it.”

After the game, Rodriguez looked like one of the more satisfied players on the team. He sat at the press table waiting to do an interview and basked in what he and his team had just done.

He had reason to bask, too. Rodriguez set a tone of toughness with his rebounding and overall physical play. His 12 points and 10 rebounds were big, as were his five assists. Included in that total was a behind-the-back bounce pass for a Lucas N’Guessan dunk, a play that will be seen on ETSU highlight films for years.

“We played hard and everything went our way,” Rodriguez said.

ETSU had lost its last road game, at North Dakota State. Guard Tray Boyd said that result humbled the Bucs a bit, maybe right about the time they needed a little humbling.

His coach agreed.

“To be honest, I’d probably trade that North Dakota State loss for this,” Forbes said. “To be honest, that probably helped us.”

Patrick Good put the Bucs in position to win by making four of his five 3-pointers in the first half. The Johnson City native and David Crockett product hadn’t scored in double figures since a Nov. 24 win over Southern Utah. In fact, his game-high 19 points against LSU were more than he had scored in his last five games combined.

“That was great,” ETSU’s Bo Hodges said. “We’ve been saying he’s going to have a breakout game. He’s been in a slump. He’s a shooter. We told him to keep shooting and he made them.”

Hodges played another solid all-around game with 13 points, nine rebounds and five assists. He was one of the quickest players on the court and a big reason ETSU seemed to get every loose ball.

Hodges also had a highlight dunk in the first half, and it came just as Good was getting going from outside. The dunk made the No. 3 play on the “SportCenter” Top 10 plays of the night. It also set the tone for the rest of the night, showing the Tigers and the 8,556 in attendance at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center that ETSU wasn’t going away.

In fact, the Bucs almost blew the Tigers out of their own building. When ETSU’s lead grew to 23 points in the second half, the fans began to leave — undoubtedly with football on their minds.

LSU paid ETSU $100,000 for the game and $15,000 of that went directly into Forbes’ pocket, thanks a clause in his contract that calls for the bonus for wins over Power Five teams.

Forbes jokingly reminded ETSU President Brian Noland in a wild postgame locker room scene.

“Dr. Noland, you owe me some money,” Forbes is heard saying on a video of the celebration.

That brought cheers from the players, staff and fans who were allowed into the locker room to share the moment.

Taking Forbes’ bonus out of the check, ETSU still earned $85,000, and as everybody knows, a win for a Southern Conference team over a good Southeastern Conference opponent can only be called one thing: priceless.