Five things about Kentucky men’s basketball’s Friday night opponent, East Tennessee State:
1. Steve Forbes won 51 games his first two years at ETSU
The 52-year-old Forbes was an assistant for two seasons under former Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie at Texas A&M before joining Bruce Pearl at Tennessee in 2006. Pearl spent five seasons in Knoxville and was on the staff when Pearl got hit with a show cause penalty after lying to the NCAA about a recruiting violation.
Forbes then became the head coach at Northwest Florida State Junior College, where he went 62-6 in two seasons. He was an assistant for Gregg Marshall at Wichita State for two years before becoming the head coach at ETSU on March 30, 2015.
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Forbes replaced Murry Bartow, the son of former Memphis/UCLA/UAB coach Gene Bartow. Murry Bartow went 224-169 in 12 seasons at East Tennessee, taking the Buccaneers to three NCAA Tournaments. His 2009-10 team lost 100-71 to Kentucky in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Forbes led ETSU to a 24-12 record his first season in Johnson City. The Bucs improved to 27-8 last season, tying for the regular-season Southern Conference title before winning the conference tournament. As the No. 13 seed in the NCAA Tournament, ETSU lost 80-65 to No. 4 seed Florida in Orlando.
Jerry Tipton has a feature on Forbes, who has a picture of John Calipari on his office wall.
2. East Tennessee State has 10 new players on its roster
Forbes has had to do a near total rebuild from last year’s team. He lost four starters to graduation, including leading scorer T.J. Cromer, who averaged 19.1 points per game. Plus, Forbes lost junior college transfer, Jeromy Rodriguez, a 6-foot-7 forward who was expected to make an impact. Rodriguez will miss the season after undergoing shoulder surgery.
Thus the coaches and the media picked ETSU to finish fourth in the Southern Conference. The coaches picked Mercer to win the league, while the media picked Mercer sixth. The media picked Samford, which is coached by ex-UK star and former Calipari staffer Scott Padgett, to win the league. The coaches picked Samford third.
3. East Tennessee is off to a 1-1 start
The Buccaneers opened with an 81-63 loss at Northern Kentucky. They rebounded Monday night to win at Savannah State 76-61.
Desonta Bradford scored 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the loss at Northern Kentucky. Blanford is the team’s leading returning scorer at 10.4 points per game. Jalan McCloud scored 11 points off the bench. Freshman center Mladen Amus had seven points and 10 rebounds against NKU.
Devontavius Payne, a senior from Carbondale, Illinois and John A. Logan College, scored 28 points in the win at Savannah State. The 6-3 senior made six three-pointers. Bradford just missed a triple double on Monday, scoring 10 points, grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing eight assists. David Burrell scored seven points and grabbed 12 rebounds.
4. East Tennessee likes to shoot the three-pointer
Against Northern Kentucky, the Bucs missed a lot of three-pointers. ETSU was just two-of-18 from behind the stripe for 11.1 percent. It shot 36.7 percent as a team in the 18-point loss.
It shot much better from three in the win at Savannah State. Forbes’ club was 11-of-35 in that game. Besides Payne making six three-pointers, sophomore guard Jason Williams hit five three-pointers.
Actually, the Bucs got off to a terrible start from three on Monday. The made just two of their first 17 threes, before heading up to make nine of their last 18 on the way to their first win oft he season.
5. East Tennessee players looking forward to playing at Rupp Arena
“It’s a historic place,” Bradford told Joe Avento of the Johnson City Press. “They’ve had a lot of NBA guys go through there, a lot of great guys. It’s one of the powerhouses of college basketball, so coming from a fan’s perspective, everybody wants to play in a place like that.”
As Avento points out, the Bucs hope to solve their turnover woes in the first two games. East Tennessee has turned the ball over 20 times in each of its first two games. Meanwhile, Kentucky turned it over 18 times in Tuesday night’s 65-61 loss to Kansas in the Champions Classic.
East Tennessee State at Kentucky
When: Friday, Nov. 17, 2017 at 7 p.m.
Where: Rupp Arena in Lexington
TV: SEC Network with Matt Stewart, Antoine Walker and Tara Petrolino
Radio: UK Radio Network with Tom Leach and Mike Pratt