East Tennessee State’s basketball team won its 14th consecutive game — and reached the 20-victory plateau for the third year in a row — as Desonta Bradford scored a career-high 31 points in a 96-76 Southern Conference victory over Samford Thursday night at Freedom Hall.
The Bucs improved to 20-4 overall, 11-0 in the SoCon. It’s the 19th time in school history the team has won at least 20 games in a season.
“We’ve got bigger things ahead,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said. “Twenty wins used to be a milestone in college basketball, but you play 31. We have to go get more.”
The Bucs overcame a furious Samford rally to win going away, but it was anything but easy. A 30-8 lead all but evaporated early in the second half before ETSU got things headed in the right direction.
The winning streak is the third-longest in school history. The school record is 16.
“It’s a great feeling,” Bradford said. “We just hope we can keep it going, keep improving and keep learning from each game.”
STATING HIS CASE
Bradford added to his resume’ in his quest to become the league’s player of the year by making 12 of 16 field goal attempts and going 5 of 9 from 3-point range.
“It felt good,” Bradford said. “After the first, like, two or three or four went in, the rim started getting a little bigger. I just stayed aggressive and kept shooting and they kept falling.”
The senior guard also had four assists, three steals and five rebounds.
“Desonta Bradford’s playing like an all-league, player of the year, type player right now,” Forbes said.
Bradford became the first ETSU player to reach 30 points since T.J. Cromer’s 41-point effort, also against Samford, in last year’s SoCon tournament.
Samford coach Scott Padgett, whose injury-plagued team fell to 8-16 overall, 4-7 in the SoCon, said ETSU’s defense sets the team apart.
“First of all, they play harder than everybody in the league,” Padgett said. “We’ve played everybody and they play harder. And I don’t care about the offensive end of the floor because that’s not what wins it. What wins it for them is they guard their tails off and they’re physical and they go to the glass and rebound.”
GAME OF RUNS
Midway through the first half, ETSU was up by 22 points and the partisan crowd of 5,019 smelled a blowout.
Samford scored the final five points of the first half and suddenly the Bucs found themselves with a not-so-comfortable 48-35 lead at intermission.
What turned out to be a 19-4 Samford run left the Bucs clinging to a 52-49 lead.
The Bucs got serious again with a 24-5 run, fueled by consecutive 3-pointers from Bradford, Jermaine Long and Devontavius Payne.
ETSU came out with an obvious game plan, pounding the ball inside to Peter Jurkin. The 7-footer made it pay, scoring with a dunk on the first possession and a short turnaround shot on the third.
While Jurkin was producing inside, Bradford got things going from the perimeter. He made his first four 3-point attempts and had 16 points by halftime.
One game after going 2 for 23 from 3-point range, the Bucs were 14 for 31, narrowly missing the single-game school record of 15.
Payne went 3 of 6 from long range and finished with 15 points. Jalan McCloud added 11.
Senior center Karl Overstreet saw the first action of his college career and scored a basket with 56 seconds left.
Overstreet came to ETSU under Murry Bartow and red-shirted his freshman year. He left the team and joined a fraternity the next year.
He re-emerged this season as a walk-on. His first action and points came, fittingly, on Greek night at Freedom Hall.
“I’m really happy for him,” Forbes said. “He’s been a great teammate all year long. He battled through what I thought was a season-ending injury and all of a sudden he’s back at practice again.”
Eric Adams, who came in averaging 7.6 points per game, had 21 for Samford. He made 10 of 14 shots and added nine rebounds. Demetrius Denzel-Dyson led the Bulldogs with 23 points and Justin Coleman added 19.
The Bucs play host to Chattanooga on Saturday at 4 p.m.