Gallery at bottom of page (Photos by Collin Brooks)
By Collin Brooks
It didn’t take long for T.J. Cromer and A.J. Merriweather to reach ETSU’s 1,000 point club during their contest against Mercer on Saturday. Just four minutes in, the duo each connected on their milestone before embracing at center court.
The energy propelled the Bucs to an 88-71 win over the Bears and their 20th win of the season.
“It feels great to know that I am a part of an elite list to score 1,000 points,” said Cromer after the win, which made the Bucs 11-2 at home on the season. “Basically the main goal was to get the win, my five points and his six points was awesome, but the most important thing was the win.”
Cromer did more than just reach a milestone, he might have had his best game in an ETSU uniform, finishing with 28 points, a game-high eight rebounds and six assists. The duo were the first pair to reach the milestone in the same contest since Major Greer and Alvin West in the 1991 season.
“Today, our guys really came ready to play and we played really strong for 40 minutes,” ETSU coach Steve Forbes said. “We got off to a great start, against a quality opponent…We had great balance with four guys in double figures and T.J. Cromer is really having an MVP type season…I don’t know if he can play any better.”
In the contest, Devontavius Payne finished with 18 points in 16 minutes, while Desonta Bradford finished with 11 points and Merriweather finished the contest with 10. The Bears were led by Jordan Strawberry, who scored 15 of his 16 points in the second half.
He was a key culprit in helping Mercer chip away at the Bucs lead in the second half, as the Bears were able to get back within 10 points with just over nine minutes remaining in the contest.
But Payne would connect on a back-to-back 3-pointers to give ETSU a 67-51 lead with just under seven minutes remaining. Another trey by Cromer helped the Bucs get a little more breathing room.
Cromer hit the mark at the 17:05 mark in the first half with 3-pointer and Merriweather was able to connect on a three at the 16:43 mark to score his 1,000th point. That helped the Bucs take a 14-4 lead to open the contest.
“What an incredible accomplishment for those guys,” Forbes said. “AJ is one of the best student athletes I have ever coached, as far as a total package. Great person, great student, great player…T.J. Cromer, I’ve coached a lot of good junior college players in my day, I don’t think I’ve ever signed a junior college player, maybe one, that scored 1,000 points in two years. That’s really hard to do at the Division I level, especially in a league this good.
“He has to be one of the better ETSU juco players to come here, I’m not going to tell you he is the best, because some historian on a message board will tell you I’m wrong. But I think he is a really good player and he is having a really good year.”
The Bucs took their largest lead of the game at 24 points, with just over six minutes left until halftime. With the win, the Bucs recorded back-to-back 20 win seasons for the 4th time in program history. They also notched their 12th 20 win season since the 1988-1989 season.
In their 5th straight home win of the season, ETSU was able to hold the Bears to 25 rebounds, the Bears average 37 on the season. The Bucs were able to grab 36 rebounds and connected on 53 percent of their shot attempts, including knocking down 12-25 from 3-point range.
The Bucs will suit up again on Wednesday when they host Samford. ETSU defeated the Bulldogs in Birmingham 96-86 on Jan. 25.