Southern Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament Championship
Written by Adam Bird on 03/10/2020
#1 ETSU 72
#7 Wofford 58
(Asheville, NC) – Twelve months ago, as confetti fell on the freshly crowned Southern Conference Champion Wofford Terriers, ETSU head coach Steve Forbes knew what his team wasn’t.
But four months ago, he discovered what they were.
“Last year, we came here and lost to Wofford and I said to you guys we were really good but we weren’t special.” Forbes recalled. “I said Wofford was special and they proved it. But when we went to Kansas (in November of this season) and we were down five with four to go and we were right there, had the ball, I’ve been in there a lot of times and just got whipped. So I knew then we had a chance. Then we went to LSU and popped them. Had them down 23 in the second half and beat them by double digits. I knew we had a chance. Tonight, I sit here with a special team.”
And it took a special effort by a championship team to hold off a pesky group of Terriers from Wofford 72-58 to claim the 2020 Ingles Southern Conference Basketball Tournament Championship Monday night.
“Congrats to ETSU, their staff, their players and their program,” said Wofford head coach Jay McAuley. “They’ve had a heck of a season. There’s a good chance they will be playing for quite some time in that tournament. They have a lot of good pieces and a good system.”
Through much of the first half, both teams were doing enough to keep a national television audience and the 6,400 in the Harrah’s Cherokee Center Asheville guessing which team would hoist the trophy at the end of the night. ETSU struck first and raced to an 11-2 early lead, forcing an early Wofford timeout. The Terriers responded with a 9-0 run of their own, and eventually took a 24-19 lead on a layup by Messiah Jones with 7:57 left in the half.
“We fought and popped ‘em [Wofford] in the mouth and they popped us in the mouth and came right back,” Forbes said. “Jay did an unbelievable job to get them to the finals. I think we just wore them down.”
The Bucs closed the half on a 17-7 run, culminating in a pair of Isaiah Tisdale free throws, giving them a 36-31 lead at the break. Another Jones bucket with 15:50 left in the game cut the ETSU lead to 40-38, but from there on it was all Bucs. A 16-4 run over the next six minutes proved to be the knockout blow for the weary group of Terriers, playing their fourth game in four days.
“I’m really proud of our team,” McAuley said. “They gave everything they had here in Asheville. We kind of ran out of gas there late. Some shots didn’t fall, some legs looked a little tired and we missed a couple free throws. I thought we had a great weekend and I know this, we will be back.”
Tisdale finished a strong tournament run leading ETSU with 24 points, and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player by the media. He was joined in double figures by Tray Boyd III with 11. Chevez Goodwin paced Wofford (19-16) with 18, while Tray Hollowell added 13 off the bench.
The win capped a special season for the Bucs as they entered rare company with their 30th win on the seasons. Forbes will leave it to others to decide their place in So Con history, but he knows where he would put them.
“To win 30 games, we are one of only four teams in the 100-year history of this great conference to win 30 games,” he said. “That’s a special deal. I don’t know where we fit in the history of ETSU basketball, but I know this, if there’s a Mt. Rushmore, we’re on it.”
Along with their eighth Southern Conference Tournament title comes an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. ETSU will learn their location and opponent in the tournament on Sunday at 6pm.