East Tennessee State escaped with a 72-68 overtime victory against Mercer in a Southern Conference basketball game Saturday as Jeromy Rodriguez had 20 points and 18 rebounds and Patrick Good made four free throws in the final 17 seconds.
It was an uphill climb all the way for the Bucs despite their 50-23 rebounding advantage.
The Bucs won their seventh consecutive game — all the others were by comfortable margins — and improved to 15-4 overall, 5-1 in the SoCon. They’re 7-0 in overtime games under fourth-year coach Steve Forbes.
“I’m not ever going to disparage a win,” said Forbes, who is 9-0 against Mercer. “Can we play better? Yeah. But to win the conference championship, you’re going to have to win some games like this. On the road, sometimes you have to steal and go home.”
With ETSU leading 67-65 with 35 seconds left in overtime, Bo Hodges missed on a leaning drive and then fouled Mercer’s Jaylen Stowe, who missed the front end of a one-and-one.
Hodges was then fouled and made one for a 68-65 lead. The Bucs got the ball back when Hodges missed the second free throw and Mercer knocked it out.
When ETSU had trouble inbounding the ball, Good was forced to heave it in the air as he fell out of bounds. Rodriguez fouled Ross Cummings in the ensuing melee. The two free throws left ETSU clinging to a 68-67 lead with 19 seconds left.
Mercer fouled Good with 17 seconds on the clock and the former Crockett star swished a pair to put his team up 70-67.
As Djordje Dimitrijevic was about to launch a potentially tying 3-pointer, Good fouled him not to give him the chance, a move Forbes doesn’t always employ.
“Coach just said go for the steal and if I get the steal fine, if I foul him, fine,” Good said. “It was a strategy we used and it worked.”
Dimitrijevic made one free throw. Good was fouled again with three seconds remaining and sealed the victory.
“I didn’t shoot well from the floor so I knew I had to shoot well from the free-throw line,” said Good, who finished with 13 points despite going 3 for 12 from the field. “My teammates wanted me to shoot them and my coaches wanted me to shoot them. I made the free throws and we’re going home with a victory.”
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After Mercer’s Ethan Stair tied the game at 63 with a layup with 30 seconds remaining, Forbes called timeout with 23 seconds left. Isaiah Tisdale drove and missed a short shot and Rodriguez got the rebound and missed at the buzzer.
“Man, I’m not going to lie,” Rodriguez said. “Right before he took that shot, I told myself I have to get the rebound and get a putback. But I couldn’t finish the shot.”
It was one of the few things Rodriguez did wrong. He went 9 of 12 from the field and had his 11th double-double of the season.
“He’s a monster,” Forbes said. “He’s a great player.”
Forbes has never been happier to be losing by four points at halftime. That’s because it could have — should have — been much worse. He lit into his team in the locker room after a first-half performance that included 13 consecutive missed shots and a scoreless span of 6 minutes, 50 seconds.
Somehow, ETSU was only down 32-28 at halftime.
“I felt like they came out like they were a little entitled,” Forbes said. “I felt like we walked out here like ‘We’ve been blowing teams out and I guess we’ll blow these guys out.’ We’ve been telling them for the past 24 hours, that is not going to happen.”
Mladen Armus had 11 rebounds for ETSU before fouling out. Hodges had 10 points.
The Bucs were 11 of 12 from the free-throw line.
Cummings led Mercer (6-11, 1-4) with 22 points. Stair added 13.
VMI pays a visit to Freedom Hall on Thursday night. The Bucs then play host to UNC Greensboro on Saturday in a rematch of last season’s SoCon tournament championship game.