By Ken Cross
As Greensboro ended East Tennessee State’s 16-game winning streak with a 74-56 victory in the Greensboro Coliseum on Monday evening, Buccaneers coach Steve Forbes felt like a performance like this might have been on the horizon.
It’s the ebb and flow of basketball. The Bucs had ridden the sea while navigating all the combers for longer than most any team can. They had some lights out performances in the 16-game run as they are still in the Southern Conference lead, but then a tough night where they were playing a really good Spartans team threw them under the current.
ETSU shot only 30.3 percent as they average around 49 percent per game and then UNCG had a strong offensive game behind guards Francis Alonso and Demetrius Troy where they shot 49.1 percent and combined for 37 of the 74 points.
“We got manhandled big time and I feel like we only had one player show up ready to play and that was Desonta Bradford,” said Forbes, who gave plenty of credit to the Spartans after the game, “Everybody else was deer in the head lights. It kind of literally reminded me of the Northern Kentucky game the way we didn’t share the ball. We were trying to make plays on our own.”
ETSU had only four assists on 20 baskets as the Spartans are a talented squad posed problems with their length and depth. Big man James Dickey was a major defensive presence as he had eight of the Spartans’ 14 blocks. A big key was that the Bucs didn’t work deep enough into their offense in the half-court to try to get Dickey to move. When they challenged, he swatted with a vengeance.
“I guess we were surprised Dickey was standing in there,” said Forbes, ” Obviously, we knew he was going to be in there. You have got to kick it out shot fake, do something different. You can’t continue to drive in there and get your shot blocked.”
Greensboro never trailed as they made four quick threes and jumped to a 21-11 lead some nine minutes in. The Bucs battled back in the first half as Bradford, who scored a game-high 21 points, and Kanayo Obi-Rapu led them on a 20-9 run over the second 10 minutes of the first half. Jalen McCloud, ETSU’s second leading scorer, netted a triple at the cut the Spartans’ lead to 33-31 at the break.
“I just think we would like to keep them out of the paint and keep them from getting down hill on us,” said UNCG coach Wes Miller, who saw his Spartans get to within one game of the Buccaneers, “I think we put forth a great effort to do that. They are just so elite off the bounce that they are going to get down there a lot.”
A 9-0 run over about four minutes gave the Spartans the separation they looked for as they went up 53-39 with as Jordy Kuiper capped the sprint with a triple with 10:52 remaining.
“I thought our only chance was to make plays on the ball and our guys did a good job of doing that and we wanted to make plays at the rim whether it was to try to make them miss or to try to make them go up and make a shot,” said Miller.
The Spartans picked up the Buccaneers’ guards high in the half-court once the ball had progressed. They also used a 1-2-2 three-quarter court press which slowed East Tennessee State’s offense as the Bucs never found a comfort level or an continuity.
“We play that every possession after a made basket or dead ball,” said Miller, “It affects different teams in different ways. It doesn’t have that type of affect on East Tennessee State because their guards are so gifted. We don’t give them a lot of trouble but it does slow them down.”
For the Buccaneers, Forbes wants his team to get back to effectively executing and sharing the basketball. That’s how they built such a win streak and how they had a near miss at No. 4 Xavier earlier in the year.
“We haven’t played well this week,” explained Forbes, “Now, we are either getting better or getting worse. We are not getting better this week. We played well against Chattanooga – we had that time off. We did not play well at VMI and we did not play well tonight.”
The Spartans will navigate through the last five games of the seasonwhere the first three are on the road while the next two are at the Greensboro Coliseum. The Bucs’ last roadie of the season is at Western Carolina on Saturday before three in a row at home.
“A lot of credit goes to Greensboro; I thought they played hard and with an edge and they executed their stuff,” noted Forbes, “All the way across the board, we got beat. There are some things we need to change.”