By Collin Brooks
I hope to see it again.
Not against the same two teams — Tennessee coach Rick Barnes made it clear they won’t be back — but I hope to see a capacity crowd pack Freedom Hall again next year. While the Bucs came up a bit short in their hopes of defeating the University of Tennessee inside Freedom Hall on Dec. 22, it gave hope that basketball is finally back in Johnson City.
It’s been years since the Bucs have had such a raucous and rowdy home-court advantage. When the Bucs took the floor for warm-ups, a roar accompanied them from their fans, which resulted in goose bumps on my arms. I haven’t missed many games since the Bucs moved to Freedom Hall last year.
The stage was set for an upset in name only, the Bucs are darn good this year. And if it wasn’t for dismal shooting in the first half (25 percent for ETSU) and a career-night for Tennessee’s Detrick Mostalle (25 points) ETSU would have had their 10th win in just 13 tries.
But those two things happened and a win did not. However, in the scheme of making the NCAA Tournament — the goal for every mid-major Division I team in the country — the loss means nothing and the rest of the season means everything. That is why I hope to see the same large crowds for the rest of the Bucs’ season.
As a college basketball fan, there will be no bigger game for the Bucs — besides, hopefully, the SoCon Championship game in Asheville in March — then their match-up with Chattanooga on Jan. 28. The Mocs defeated Tennessee to start the season and came a deep 3-pointer away from defeating Vanderbilt. The Bucs and Mocs are considered 1 and 2 — the order depending on which fan base you ask — in the Southern Conference and a betting man would put his money on the two to play one another with a shot to go to the NCAA tournament in Asheville. But the Bucs will need an excited and overwhelming crowd to help propel them to a win.
Before that contest, the Bucs will host Wofford on Jan. 22 and it will be the last time that hometown-kid Jaylen Allen will play in Johnson City. Allen was on schedule to graduate from Science Hill, before he transferred to Christ School for his junior and senior years.
Another big contest will be when ETSU hosts Mercer — a team that took Auburn to the wire — on Feb. 11. All of that is to say this, the path to the NCAA tournament will start with conference play and hopefully that path will be lined with eager home crowds to cheer on the Bucs.