BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (Jan. 25, 2017) – In one of the classic games in the history of ETSU men’s basketball, the Buccaneers battled through two overtimes to ultimately drop Southern Conference foe Samford 96-86 on the road Wednesday night at the Pete Hanna Center.
The game – which included 12 ties and 21 lead changes – saw the Bucs make a defensive stop at the end of regulation to force the first overtime, but then look on as Samford’s Christen Cunningham hit a buzzer-beating, game-tying 3-pointer to send the teams to a second extra period. At that point, the Bucs scored 18 points in the final, five-minute OT period – an offensive surge led by 11 points from junior guard Desonta Bradford (Humboldt) and a clutch 3-pointer by senior guard T.J. Cromer (Albany, Ga.) – to take the win.
On a night when both Chattanooga and UNCG lost, the Bucs took the opportunity to get back atop the SoCon standings in the loss column, improving to 16-5 overall, 6-2 in league play. Meanwhile, Samford dropped to 13-8, 4-4.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, but I don’t know if I’ve been more proud of a team for what we faced tonight,” said ETSU head coach Steve Forbes, whose team will host UTC in a first-place matchup on Saturday. “We had a lot of daggers thrown at us tonight with them making threes and forcing overtimes, but we kept punching each and every time. For our fans back home, this team fought hard for you tonight. What can you say about Desonta? He stepped up like a boss tonight, and T.J. hit a big 3 for us in that last overtime.”
Bradford finished with his first-ever double-double thanks to 10 rebounds and a career high 21 points, while Cromer finished with a game high 27. In all, five ETSU players would score in double figures, with junior forward David Burrell (Milwaukee) adding 14, while senior post Tevin Glass (Norcross, Ga.) and senior guard A.J. Merriweather (Jackson) netted 12 and 10, respectively.
Meanwhile, Samford got a team high 26 points
In the first half, Samford overcame an early ETSU lead to use a 16-6 run and take a 21-14 lead midway through the opening 20 minutes of play. However, the Bucs responded at that point with a 10-0 run to regain the lead at 24-21. From there, the teams traded baskets before ETSU ended the half with an 11-3 spurt to take a 35-28 advantage into the halftime break.
After the break, it became a game of offensive runs. The Bucs quickly increased their advantage thanks to a 9-2 burst that made it 44-30 and forced a Samford timeout with just over 17 minutes left in regulation. However, from there, the Bulldogs answered with an 11-0 run of their own and the game stayed close until the Bucs pulled ahead by nine at 61-52 with less than eight minutes left in the game.
An 11-1 run by the Bulldogs got it close again, and the lead went back-and-forth over the final three minutes before Bradford hit a free throw to tie the game at 70 with 23 seconds left in regulation. A 3-point attempt by the Josh Sharkey missed the mark with two seconds left, sending the game to overtime.
In the first OT period, the lead changed hands multiple times before ETSU ultimately held a 78-75 edge with 14 seconds left following a pair of free throws by Cromer. The Bulldogs held the ball for the last shot, and after the ball was slapped away with five seconds left, Cunningham threw up a deep 3-pointer at the buzzer that hit the mark.
The second OT period was highlighted by Bradford’s play. Trailing 80-79, the junior guard scored seven of the team’s next 10 points and Cromer hit a three during the run to stake the Bucs to an 89-80 lead. That was ultimately enough to take the bite out of the Bulldogs and get the win.
The Bucs will now return home for a highly-anticipated matchup with SoCon arch-rival Chattanooga on Saturday, with tip set for 4 p.m. inside Freedom Hall.