After taking almost 17 hours to get from Johnson City to Champaign — a trip that included a canceled flight, a bus with a flat tire, a post-midnight team meal at Chicago’s Midway Airport and Delta Airlines losing the team’s luggage and equipment — the Bucs got off to a tough start. They fell behind by 30 points in the first half before ultimately losing to Illinois, 73-55 Saturday at State Farm Center.
The luggage finally arrived at the hotel at 11 a.m., 15 minutes before the team had to leave for a 1 p.m. Central time start. The team’s travails were featured on ESPN’s SportsCenter and coach Steve Forbes’ twitter account was very active all evening.
Afterward, the team decided to bus home instead of fly.
“I can’t even make this stuff up,” Forbes tweeted late Friday night.
After Jeromy Rodriguez opened the game with a dunk to give the Bucs their only lead, the ETSU starters missed all of their shots, combining to go 0 for 15 after the dunk. The Bucs’ starting five — Rodriguez, Tray Boyd III, Bo Hodges and Isaiah Tisdale — combined to score three points.
”I told them there are no starters on this team any more,” Forbes said. “Most positions are wide open on Monday. We’ll maybe have some news guys starting. Who knows? We’ll see what happens in practice.”
Illinois led 43-18 at halftime — ETSU scored the final five points of the half — as nobody other than freshman point guard Daivien Williamson was getting anything done for ETSU, which fell to 8-4. Williamson made his first eight field goal attempts and finished with a career-high 19 points. Patrick Good came off the bench to score 11.
Lucas N’Guessan, the Bucs’ 7-foot transfer from Oklahoma State, scored six points in his ETSU debut. He had been granted his eligibility from the NCAA earlier in the day.
ETSU finally settled down and outscored the Illini 37-30 in the second half, but the damage had been done.
”We fought back, had a couple good runs in the seond half,” Forbes said. “We had different guys in the second half and they played like we told them to play.”
Trent Frazier led Illinois (8-3) with 25 points, going 6 for 9 from 3-point range. Giorgi Bezhanishvili added 15 points and Kippier Nichols had 14.
Tisdale, ETSU’s starting point guard, was ejected from the game in the first half after an altercation where players got tangled up as Illlinois fought through a screen. Tisdale played seven minutes.
”I didn’t see what happened, but I do know this,” Forbes said. “I’ve watched a lot of film and they run through the ball handler and that’s a foul. If you call the first foul, that won’t happen.”
The Bucs return to action Friday night in a tournament at El Paso, Texas. They open with a game against Wyoming and then play either UTEP or Norfolk State the following night.