The expected Southern Conference showdown wasn’t much of a battle as the Bucs ran away from Furman, 79-56, Saturday at Freedom Hall.
“It did definitely send a message,” said ETSU forward Jeromy Rodriguez, who finished with 19 points and 11 rebounds.
ETSU won its third game in a row and improved to 11-4 overall, 1-1 in the SoCon. Furman, which had been nationally ranked until last week, lost its second straight and fell to 12-2, 1-1.
”Give them a lot of credit,” Furman coach Bob Richey said. “They played really well. I thought they were the tougher team in a lot of instances.”
Lucas N’Guessan and Daivien Williamson each scored 13 points for the Bucs, while Patrick Good added 12, all from 3-point range.
ETSU coach Steve Forbes said he felt a performance like this coming for his team, which has won its last three games by a combined 74 points.
“I just felt like we’re in a good place,” Forbes said. “We’ve been playing well and we’ve been practicing well. They were ready to play. They’ve got a good feel about themselves right now.”
As the Bucs began to pull away, they kept their foot on the gas pedal. They led 34-24 at halftime and began to turn the game into a rout. N’Guessan and Rodriguez scored back-to-back baskets to go up 40-26.
By the 2:07 mark, ETSU was up by 28 points.
“The disappointing thing for us is we were never able to respond,” Richey said. “Villanova, Loyola, some other games this season, we’ve been down 10, we’ve been down 13 and this group has responded. For whatever reason, tonight, we had no response. A lot of that credit goes to ETSU.”
N’Guessan, the 7-foot transfer from Oklahoma State playing in front of the home crowd for the first time since becoming eligible, made 5 of 7 shots to score his career-high of 13 points. He also blocked three shots.
ETSU’s big men, Rodriguez, N’Guessan and Mladen Armus, combined for 40 points and 23 rebounds.
“They basically now have three all-conference-caliber bigs out there in a cycle,” Richey said. “What they have that a lot of other people don’t have is you get down by the rim and it’s hard to finish. It’s really, really hard to finish.”
After the Bucs’ five starters combined for three points against Illinois, Forbes shook up the lineup. Using a young starting five that included no seniors, he got 64 points out of his starters on Saturday.
“Everybody wants to talk about how we have juco transfers and fifth-year guys,” Forbes said. “We started a freshman and two sophomores in the back court so we’re going to be around a while.”
GOOD AS ADVERTISED
Furman’s Matt Rafferty lived up to his billing with 19 points, five rebounds and five assists.
“I think he played great, but we were the better team tonight,” Rodriguez said. “We played harder and we were hungrier.”
Rafferty didn’t get much help. Jordan Lyons, the Paladins’ leading scorer, was held to 12 points, almost six under his average. Furman went 5 of 22 from 3-point range, which was too much to overcome with ETSU dominating in the paint and making 7 of 16 3-pointers.
The Bucs shot 60 percent and outrebounded the Paladins 33-23.
“They’re really good, really good on offense, really share the ball,” Forbes said. “They know their roles and they can shoot it. I think we were very disruptive the way we played them defensively. Our pressure got to them tonight.”
Williamson, a freshman point guard, went 4 of 6 and had three assists. The statistic Forbes was likely more impressed by was the number of turnovers. Neither Williamson nor Isaiah Tisdale, the team’s two point guards, committed a turnover.
When Furman’s Jalen Williams missed two free throws in the first half, everybody in the crowd of 5,439 won a certificate for a free Chick-fil-A sandwich.
The Bucs play host to Samford in a SoCon game Thursday night. Furman plays host to Mercer that same night.