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Bucs set for big day as Chattanooga comes to town, Dennis' jersey being retired

Joe Avento • Jan 4, 2019 at 5:57 PM

Jeromy Rodriguez has heard of Greg Dennis’ exploits on the basketball court. He’s even met the former East Tennessee State star.

When ETSU retires Dennis’ jersey Saturday, Rodriguez will be the most relieved person in Freedom Hall. For a brief moment, ETSU’s junior forward thought he’d have to pick a new jersey number.

“It was kind of funny at first because I thought they were going to actually retire the number,” Rodriguez said. “So I said ‘What number am I going to wear now?’

In reality Dennis’ jersey — not his No. 11 — is being retired when the Bucs play host to Southern Conference rival Chattanooga at 4 p.m.

Dennis played from 1987-92 for the Bucs and finished his career as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 2,204 points, a total surpassed by only Tim Smith in 2006.

“One of the greatest players to ever put on a uniform here,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said. “And obviously, a great person, too. I’m so excited that we decided to do this because he so much deserves this, especially for the Chatt game.”

Dennis was a 6-foot-11 center who could shoot from outside. He was the SoCon’s freshman of the year in 1988 and made the conference’s all-tournament team four times, including being the MVP of the tourney in 1992.

“I heard a lot of good things, I know he was a great player,” Rodriguez said. “I got to meet him and he told me ‘You better do good, wearing No. 11.’ I told him ‘Yeah, I’m going to be my best.’ ”

Rodriguez was certainly at his best in his last outing. He’s always had a knack for grabbing rebounds, being ranked among the top rebounders in the country. But he took it to another level Thursday night in an 81-72 overtime victory against Samford, grabbing a career-high 19 boards.

The Bucs (12-4 overall, 2-1 SoCon) bring a four-game winning streak into the contest. They’ve won all eight of their home games this season and average 3,892 fans, most in the conference.

RIVALRY RENEWED

ETSU fans consider Chattanooga their biggest historical rival. The Bucs won all three meetings last year, including a 77-59 decision in the SoCon tournament quarterfinals.

This will be the 87th meeting between the two schools with the Mocs holding a 47-39 edge. ETSU has won the last five.

With nine new players on the roster this year, many of the Bucs won’t have a feel for the rivalry, but Forbes said he planned to make sure they know the importance of the game.

“We talked about it,” Forbes said. “It’s a conference game and they’ll get a feel for it when we come out and the building’s full.”

REBOUNDING TANDEM

Against Samford, ETSU’s Mladen Armus pulled in 17 rebounds to go along with Rodriguez’s impressive haul. The totals were career highs for both players, but putting it into historical perspective, the 36 total rebounds didn’t even add up to the school record for one player. Tommy Woods had 38 in a game against Middle Tennessee State during the 1964-65 season.

SCOUTING THE MOCS

The Mocs are coming off a 73-62 victory over Western Carolina. That raised their record to 7-9 overall, 2-1 in the SoCon.

Chattanooga turned to some new faces to try to improve on last year’s 10-23 record in Lamont Paris’ first season as coach.

Two freshmen are leading the team in scoring. Kevin Easley, a 6-foot-6 forward, averages 14.6 points and 6.1 rebounds. Donovann Toatley, a 5-9 point guard, averages 11.2 points. Two other Chattanooga players score in double figures — 6-foot-8 sophomore Ramon Villa (10.3) and 6-foot-1 junior Jerry Johnson (10.1).

Like many other teams in the SoCon, the Mocs have relied on transfers to round out their roster. Starting center Thomas Smallwood, a 7-foot, 241-pound senior, came from UAB. Villa came from Arizona State and Johnson came from Fairfield.

Kingsport’s Makale Foreman, who averaged 10.1 points a game as a sophomore last season for the Mocs, is no longer on the team. He has transferred to Stony Brook.

SHARING THE BALL

Six players have led ETSU in scoring through 16 games.

Tray Boyd III leads the way, averaging 12.0 points per game. Rodriguez is next at 11.7 and Patrick Good is at 10.7. Seven players are scoring at least 7 points per game.

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