Bucs expect to be challenged by Georgia State star in season opener

Joe Avento • Nov 5, 2018 at 5:16 PM

Before this week, East Tennessee State basketball coach Steve Forbes was concerned with getting this team ready for the coming season and not spending too much time thinking about specific opponents.

That all changes Tuesday night when the Bucs will face what Forbes calls one of the best players they’ll see all season in their opener.

D’Marcus Simonds, Georgia State’s All-American junior guard, is an NBA prospect. He is coming off a season during which he averaged 21 points a game and was the Sun Belt Conference player of the year and the MVP of the league’s tournament.

“He’s an NBA player,” Forbes said. “I thought he might come out last season, but he stayed. He can score at the rim and at the 3-point line. He draws a lot of fouls. We really don’t want to foul him and put him on the line.”

The Bucs and Panthers open the regular season Tuesday. Tip-off is 7 p.m. in GSU Sports Arena in downtown Atlanta.

Simonds is a 6-foot-3 guard who had a season-high output of 39 points against Louisiana-Monroe last year. He was an honorable mention All-American selection after his stellar sophomore year.

“We’re not going to have just one guy guarding him,” said Forbes, whose team lost 75 percent of its scoring from last year. “We can’t be out there on an island trying to guard him.”

The Bucs, coming off a 25-9 season, have scrimmaged Austin Peay and played Southern Wesleyan in an exhibition game. They held Wesleyan to 6.7 percent shooting in the first half of an 85-39 victory.

“I thought we improved defensively from Austin Peay the week before to the Southern Wesleyan game,” Forbes said. “I didn’t think we made as many mistakes. That was a bright spot, but I don’t think we’re where we need to be yet.”

In the exhibition game, newcomer Kevon Tucker scored 17 points and sophomore center Mladen Armus grabbed 21 rebounds.

“I don’t care who you’re playing, 21 rebounds is something,” Forbes said.

Georgia State isn’t a one-man team. The Panthers have four starters back from a team that went 24-11 and won the Sun Belt Conference championship. It’s an NCAA Tournament-tested team making its home opener.

“They’ve got a lot of talent,” Forbes said. “There’s not a mid-major poll that doesn’t have them in the top 10. It’s a good test for us. We’ll see where we’re at and see where we have to get.”

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