ETSU never trailed in a 81-72 victory over Samford in the Southern Conference semifinals.
ETSU guard TJ Cromer pulayed a large part, catching fire inside the U.S. Cellular Center. Cromer had 25 first half points, and finished the game with 41. His scoring total was tired for 6th all-time in the Southern Conference tournament.
Cromer scored the first three points of the game, and continued to have the hot hand from behind the arc, going 9-12 from 3-point range. He was just one short of the all-time SoCon record for made 3-pointers. He finished 11-18 from the field overall, much improved from his 3-12 shooting performance Saturday night against Mercer.
Cromer wasn’t the only human highlight, as the Bucs put on a dunk show with high-flying, rim rattling dunks from guard AJ Merriweather, forward David Burrell and guard Desonta Bradford. Merriweather’s dunk off an alley- oop with a one handed finish was a SportsCenter top 10 nominee.
Samford had trouble shooting early, only scoring 6 points through the first 12 minutes. Their full court pressure caused ETSU some problems, forcing rushed shots and turnovers. The Bulldogs once down by 19 points in the first half cut it to a 13 point deficit going into halftime.
ETSU would surge the lead back out to as much as 22 in the second half, but Samford fought back. The Bulldogs cut the lead down to 10 with 2:21 left to go, but the Bucs nailed some late game free throws to ice the game away.
Samford guard Christen Cunningham went off for 30 points on 13-20 shooting and forward Wyatt Walker added 14. Demetrius Denzel-Dyson, who was a huge factor when Samford went on the road to play at ETSU this season, was held to just 6 points on 1-11 shooting.
With the Bucs victory, they are now just one win away from an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.This is the second consecutive year they will reach the SoCon Tournament final. They lost to Chattanooga last year.
A tough test is looming for the Blue and Gold Monday night in the championship game.. The University of North Carolina-Greensboro awaits the Bucs, a team that has already handed ETSU two losses this year.
ETSU and UNCG will square off at 7 p.m. inside the U.S. Cellular Center. The game will air on ESPN.