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Tisdale brings winning attitude to court for Bucs

Joe Avento • Mar 6, 2020 at 2:30 PM

ASHEVILLE, N.C. — When East Tennessee State basketball coach Steve Forbes was looking for a point guard a couple of years ago, he knew he had found his man.

Isaiah Tisdale was a first-team All-American at the junior college level, but Forbes saw more than just the plays he could make. Tisdale had a knack for something that can’t be coached. He knew how to win.

“When I went in his house, I came out and said this is a guy we have to have for our future success,” Forbes said. “He won at a high level in junior college and he won at a high level in high school. I knew he would do it here and he has. He’s delivered.”

How much has Tisdale won?

Over the last six seasons — two at ETSU, two at Vincennes College in Indiana and two at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Kentucky — Tisdale has been part of 163 victories and 41 losses. That equates to an average season of about 27-7.

Tisdale would have been a perfect fit for the old Oakland Raiders, whose owner Al Davis came up with the slogan “Just win baby.”

Tisdale takes that to heart every time he steps onto the court, and he’s a big reason the Bucs are 27-4 and favorites to win this week’s Southern Conference tournament. He seems to do whatever the team needs whenever it needs it. He always draws one of the other team’s toughest players to guard, runs the offense, can make a 3-pointer when necessary and crashes the boards. He’s been the team’s leading rebounder three times this season.

“I think I help by being a leader on the court,” Tisdale says. “I definitely want to be the defender that takes on one of the best guards. I take that defensive role seriously to show if I’m out there, everything’s going to be all right.”

Every once in a while, Tisdale turns into a scoring threat, as evidenced by the 26-point performance at Western Carolina this season.

On a team with plenty of stars — five current ETSU players have received all-conference mention the past two seasons — Tisdale might be the most important player on the floor.

“People tend to look at stats,” Forbes said. “He’s not a stat-stuffer. He just wins games. He’s the best glue guy I’ve ever been around. He’s a hard-playing, hard-practicing guy. He’s always smiling. He’s a great teammate, a great leader. I mean I can’t say enough about the kid.

“And I don’t know if I’ve ever had a player who helped win three games in the last possession by getting a stop.”

Tisdale’s defensive skills paid off last weekend when he solidified Patrick Good’s place in ETSU lore with one defensive play.

Good scored 24 of the Bucs’ final 30 points, including a 3-pointer with seven seconds left that put ETSU up by one. Western Carolina had a chance to win it at the buzzer, and that would have made Good’s spectacular performance simply a footnote in the history books.

Instead, Tisdale stepped out and blocked a 3-point attempt from the Catamounts’ Travion McCray to preserve a 68-67 victory that clinched the regular-season SoCon championship.

“I saw there was a couple seconds left and I had a feeling he was going to try to shoot a three,” Tisdale said. “I just knew he wasn’t going to go all the way to the basket, and I knew if I held him down real tight and just covered the three, it would be good. It felt great. I really thought they were going to call a foul and they didn’t and we won.”

The guy known as “Pun” has the respect of his teammates.

“Man, he’s really the glue guy — he keeps everything together,” Bucs all-conference guard Tray Boyd said. “Pun does a lot of things that don’t show up on the stat sheet. We love Pun and the things he does every day. He brings it every every day in practice. He’s a hard working player. He’s just a good kid and a great teammate.”

SOCON OPENER

The Bucs won’t know who they will be playing in Saturday’s SoCon quarterfinals until Friday’s play-in game. It will be either VMI or Samford.

They’ve been preparing for both teams this week.

“Both teams will play some man and zone so we’ll work on both,” Forbes said. “As soon as the game’s over on Friday, we’ll know who we’re playing and we’ll do something in the hotel. We’ll do something in the hotel on Saturday too and be ready to go. It’s not like we haven’t played them before. It will be the third time. I think the guys have a pretty good feel for who they’re playing.”

COACH OF THE YEAR

When Forbes was announced as the SoCon coach of the year, his players seemed to genuinely enjoy hearing the news.

“I’m proud of him,” Boyd said. “Off the court, you’re able to talk to him. Some coaches, depending on how it went on the court, you can’t talk to them. But he’s one of those guys, you can have a bad day at practice and as soon as practice is over, you can go up and talk to him. He don’t hold grudges.”

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