The East Tennessee State basketball team won its 13th consecutive game on Monday night, but it wasn’t easy.
The Bucs beat The Citadel 73-71 at McAlister Fieldhouse in a Southern Conference game that wasn’t decided until Alex Reed’s 3-point shot at the buzzer bounced off the rim.
“We got lucky,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said. “You can get lucky one time and have a streak continue to go, but if we continue to play like this again, we will get beat.”
Desonta Bradford had a career-high 23 points and 10 rebounds for the Bucs, who improved to 19-4 overall, 10-0 in the SoCon.
The 13-game winning streak is the third-longest in the country, behind only Purdue and St. Mary's, both of which have won 16 games in a row. The Bucs had been tied at 12 with Cincinnati, Virginia and Rhode Island, and none of them played Monday night.
“When you have a streak going on, you’re going to have games like this,” Bradford said. “We have to learn from this and move forward and hopefully it doesn’t come down to this again.”
The streak seemed in danger all night as the Bulldogs outplayed and outsmarted ETSU for much of the game.
“I knew they weren’t going to come in and just lay down and not compete,” Bradford said. “They competed at a high level and by the grace of God, we came out with a win.”
Bradford’s two free throws with 44.6 seconds remaining gave the Bucs a 69-68 lead, one they would eventually hold.
Frankie Johnson, The Citadel’s 5-foot-5 point guard, then found an open lane to the hoop, but his layup was off the mark. The Bucs got the rebound and Jalan McCloud was fouled.
After McCloud made the first free throw, he missed the second. The Citadel got the rebound and threw the ball away with 13.6 seconds left.
ETSU’s Bo Hodges was fouled on the inbounds play and made both free throws for a 72-68 lead.
Matt Frierson then swished a contested 3-pointer for The Citadel, cutting the deficit to 72-71 with 7.6 seconds on the clock.
The Bulldogs quickly fouled McCloud and he made one, setting up the frantic final six seconds.
Johnson drove the lane and kicked the ball out to Reed, who was wide open on the left wing. His shot looked good in the air, but was a bit long and bounced off the rim.
“They’re a great team,” said Bulldogs’ coach Duggar Baucom, whose team fell to 7-14, 2-7. “But we helped them in some critical situations tonight. I’m proud of our kids. I thought they played with amazing heart.”
Hodges added 19 points and nine rebounds for the Bucs, who have won 17 of their last 18 games. He was saddled with four fouls for much of the second half and was forced to watch from the bench.
“It was tense,” Hodges said. “They came out and fought hard. We obviously didn’t play our best game. God helped us out of this one tonight.”
ETSU went 2 for 23 from 3-point range, with only Bradford and Devontavius Payne, each of whom went 1 for 5, connecting.
The Bucs made up, in part, for that cold shooting by excelling at the foul line, where they were 27 for 33. Bradford made all eight of his, while Hodges was 9 of 10.
BY THE NUMBERS
Jermaine Long had seven of ETSU’s nine assists. Mladen Armus had 10 rebounds as the Bucs out-rebounded The Citadel 49-36.
Zane Najdawi led the Bulldogs with 18 points. Frierson, Kaelon Harris and Leandro Allende each had 11.
The Bucs held The Citadel to 31 percent shooting, but the Bulldogs went 11 for 28 from 3-point range and made 24 of 29 free throws.
In the early going, for the first time in more than a month, the Bucs seemed flustered by what an opponent was throwing at them. The Bulldogs’ changing defenses helped them jump out to a 17-10 lead 8:30 into the game.
In the gym where the Bucs set the SoCon record with 17 blocked shots in 2004, they attacked the Bulldogs’ shots again.
Six ETSU players had one block apiece in the first half and the team finished with eight by the end of the night.
The Bucs will go for their 20th victory Thursday when Samford comes to Freedom Hall for a 7 p.m tip.