McCloud scored the first 13 points of the second half and 20 points overall to lead the East Tennessee State basketball team to a school-record tying 16th straight win, 70-56, Saturday at Virginia Military Institute.
It is now the longest winning streak in the country following Gonzaga’s 78-65 win over St. Mary’s late Saturday night and Virginia Tech’s 61-60 win over Virginia.
The Bucs have now won 20 of their last 21 games, but their latest conquest came exponentially harder than the 41-point romp ETSU had over the Keydets on Jan. 13. They didn’t hold a double-digit lead until 8:53 left in the game.
After tying the school record set by the 2003-04 team, ETSU improved to 22-4 and 13-0 in the Southern Conference.
"It's something the team can be proud of," Forbes said about the streak. "It's something for the guys to talk about when the season is over, something they can talk about 10 years from now. Our plan is to keep it going, break it and bury it where it will be really hard to ever break. That's not the ultimate goal, but once you get on a run like this and you're playing well, these things happen."
ABOUT HIS BIG DAY
"You get a good feel," McCloud said. "You make some layups and sooner or later, shots are going to fall. I didn't play against them at home and we come up here and the atmosphere was crazy. My hat's tipped off to those guys, they played crazy hard. It's hard not to think about the streak, but you have to take it one game at a time — step-by-step, day-by day."
Devontavius Payne came off the bench with 11 points, the only other ETSU player to hit double figures. Senior guard Desonta Bradford was held to nine points, well under his average of 15.5 points per game. But the win was as much about defense, rebounding and ultimately getting the job done.
The Bucs held the Keydets to 21 of 61 (34.4 percent) from the field and won the rebounding battle by a 48-27 margin. Coach Steve Forbes also commented on his team's mental toughness after they hit 18 of 20 free throws.
"When the offense isn't there for you, the defense and rebounding, that's the reliable thing," Forbes said. "We were really locked in defensively and we rebounded well. I liked the defensive effort on the road and then you see the free-throw shooting, and that's toughness."
Bradford added: "Coach says, 'Defense and rebounding travel.' It showed today."
VMI (7-17, 2-11) effectively took the Bucs out of their game early, with no second-chance or fast-break points until the final couple of minutes of the first half. After holding an early 4-3 lead, the Bucs didn't pull ahead again until Bradford's contested layup put them up 29-28 at the 1:47 mark.
VMI's Bubba Parham answered with a 3-point play on the other end 21 seconds later and it was back-and-forth until the end of the half. Mladen Armus hit a put-back to give the Bucs a 34-33 lead, and Parham missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Just 27 seconds left in the game, Jermaine Long went down hard on a rebound attempt and hurt his back in process. Forbes didn't know his status for Monday's game at UNC Greensboro, when the Bucs look to set a new record.
VMI was led in scoring by Garrett Gilkeson with 14 points. Jordan Ratliffe had 12 points and Parham finished with 11. For ETSU, Armus grabbed 10 rebounds and Long had eight.
ETSU had 18 turnovers and the Keydets scored 20 points off them. However, the Bucs' rebounding total was key to VMI scoring only six second-chance points and ETSU finishing with a 33-20 advantage in the paint. The Bucs are now 21-1 in games they’ve led at halftime.
ABOUT THE STREAK
Forbes not only acknowledged the streak. His team has fully embraced it as Bradford, a senior guard, commented.
"It means a lot to tie the school record," Bradford said. "It means a lot for this team and this program. I can speak for all the guys to say we don't want to lose anytime soon and we're taking it one game at a time."