Top 10 Moments in ETSU Basketball: #1

#1: 1992 NCAA win Tournament against Arizona

For the #1 moment in ETSU basketball history I’ve decided to go with ETSU beating Arizona in the 1992 NCAA tournament.

It may not come as a surprise to many ETSU basketball fans that the #1 moment is the NCAA tournament win versus Arizona but over the last 30 years I think that is the easy choice. Prior to the 1992 season the only NCAA tournament win ETSU had was the 1968 win against Florida State. ETSU basketball and it’s fans waited 24 years until it’s next NCAA tournament win and there were several close calls between that time. The Bucs only lost by 1 against Oklahoma in 1989 and only lost by 3 to Iowa two years later.

ETSU finished the 1991-1992 season strong much like the previous year, in winning their last 8 games en route to the NCAA tournament. They also had several big wins earlier in the year, such as on the road against Tennessee and Xavier. However, when the NCAA field was set the Bucs found themselves as an underrated #14 seed against #3 Arizona who had been ranked in the top 5 most of the season, including reaching as high as 2nd in the nation late in the year. While it sounds like a difficult match on paper it was exactly what ETSU wanted. The Bucs had played Arizona the previous season in the pre-season NIT and led the wildcats on their homecourt for most of the first half before losing 79-88. In addition to knowing their opponent well the Bucs were also Senior led team with Marty Story and Calvin Talford who had been with the Bucs through their previous 3 NCAA Tournament trips, there was also 5th year Senior Greg Dennis, who was red-shirted the previous year.

The Bucs came out firing against Arizona with great shooting and would lead the wildcats by as much as 16 points. Arizona would edge closer late in the 2nd half but their late run was not enough to beat the Bucs who finished the game shooting 50% from the field including 52% behind the 3-point line and 13 3-pointers made in total. ETSU would go on to face the Michigan Wolverines and the “Fab 5” in the second round where they would give a great effort but fall 90-102.

The win versus Arizona is without doubt the biggest win in the last 30 years for ETSU basketball and perhaps the biggest win in the history of the school and that’s why it’s the #1 moment in this top 10 list. The Bucs are still looking for that next NCAA tournament win and they’ve been close recently including being within 3 points of a win in both 2003 and 2004. I’ve included a video of the whole game against Arizona at the top of the post, so we can all relive one of the best moments in ETSU basketball history.

I hope you enjoyed reading this list as much as I enjoyed writing it. While it was very difficult to decide on just 10 moments I felt like these 10 truly are the best. If you disagree please feel free to comment below and tell me your favorite moments.

A complete recap of the top 10:
#10: 2009 A-Sun Championship
#9: Calvin Talford Winning the Dunk Contest.
#8: First win against Tennessee
#7: 2003 Southern Conference Championship
#6: 2003-2004 Season
#5: Keith Jennings being named a second-team consensus All-American
#4: The 1989 Southern Conference Championship
#3: 3 Straight wins over NC State
#2: First Top 25 Ranking
#1: 1992 NCAA Tournament win against Arizona

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Top 10 Moments in ETSU Basketball: #2

#2: First Top 25 Ranking

For the 2nd best moment in ETSU basketball history I’ve decided to go with ETSU earning their first Top 25 ranking, which occurred in December of 1990.

The expectations were high for ETSU basketball going into the 1990-1991 season, they had just come off their 3rd straight Southern Conference championship and they were returning the starting five that had won those 3 straight titles. The expectations were high nationally as well, the college basketball polls had ETSU ranked right outside the top 25 to start the season and when the polls came out on December 11th 1990 they had the Bucs at #24.

As the season progressed ETSU slowly made their way up the poll as they kept winning and by early February the Bucs were ranked 10th in the nation in the AP poll and 9th in the coaches poll.

Despite losing 3 Southern Conference games ETSU still finished the year in the top 20 in both polls. The 1991 Bucs would go on to earn a disappointing 10th seed in the NCAA tournament, even though they had only lost 4 games and were ranked all season long. ETSU faced 7th seeded Iowa without Calvin Talford and Greg Dennis who were both out injured and after leading throughout most of the first and second half the Bucs season would end prematurely with a 73-76 loss.

The 1990-1991 season is arguably the greatest season ever in ETSU basketball history even without getting a NCAA Tournament win and I often wonder what would have happened if Greg Dennis had played the whole year and if Calvin Talford had been able to play in the NCAA tournament. Would they have swept the Southern Conference and gone into the tournament with only 1 loss and a much higher seed in the tournament with a better chance to make a big run? Who knows, but I do know it was a special moment when Buc fans saw East Tennessee State in the top 25 polls for the very first time.

At the top of the post I’ve included a short highlight reel of the 1990-1991 season when ETSU earned their first top 25 ranking.

A recap of the top 10 so far:
#10: 2009 A-Sun Championship
#9: Calvin Talford Winning the Dunk Contest.
#8: First win against Tennessee
#7: 2003 Southern Conference Championship
#6: 2003-2004 Season
#5: Keith Jennings being named a second-team consensus All-American
#4: The 1989 Southern Conference Championship
#3: 3 Straight wins over NC State
#2: First Top 25 Ranking

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Top 10 Moments in ETSU Basketball: #3

#3: 3 Straight wins over NC State

For the 3rd best moment in ETSU basketball history I’ve decided to go with the 3 straight wins ETSU got over NC State between 1989-1992.

Between 1989 and 1992 ETSU had several big wins against big name opponents, however I think the dominance over NC State during this time period might be some of the most memorable wins for ETSU fans.

Perhaps the most impressive win over NC State occurred in December of 1989, when the Bucs shocked the Wolfpack in Raleigh. Going into this game NC State was ranked 15th in the nation and had a record of 6-1. The Bucs not only won but they controlled the game and beat the 15th ranked team in the nation by 10 points.

The next season NC State traveled to Johnson City in what might still be the biggest game ever in the dome. The 20th ranked Bucs entertained a sellout crowd of 12,240 in the dome. In addition to the sell out crowd it was a homecoming for Les Robinson who left ETSU the previous season to be the head coach at NC State. The Bucs did not disappoint the sell out crowd as they won 94-91 in a game that was tight throughout.

The final win against the Wolfpack occurred the next season in a late non-conference matchup. Going into this game the Bucs were heavily favored as NC state was having one of their worst seasons in quite sometime. ETSU did not play as well as they had in previous games against NC State but they still came away with a win in Raleigh, 72-66. ETSU and NC State have not played each other again since this game.

At the top of this post I’ve included the full game between ETSU and North Carolina State that was played in Johnson City in December of 1990 and below I included the full game against NC State from the very next season that was played in Raleigh.

1992 game versus NC State in Raleigh, NC

A recap of the top 10 so far:
#10: 2009 A-Sun Championship
#9: Calvin Talford Winning the Dunk Contest.
#8: First win against Tennessee
#7: 2003 Southern Conference Championship
#6: 2003-2004 Season
#5: Keith Jennings being named a second-team consensus All-American
#4: The 1989 Southern Conference Championship
#3: 3 Straight wins over NC State

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Top 10 Moments in ETSU Basketball: #4

#4: The 1989 Southern Conference Championship

For the 4th best moment in ETSU basketball history I’ve decided to go with the 1989 Southern Conference championship against Marshall which was ETSU’s first of 6 Southern Conference Tournament titles.

ETSU winning the 1989 Southern Conference tournament was huge for the program and for it’s fans. Prior to 1989 ETSU had not been to the NCAA tournament for 21 years and during that 21 year drought ETSU basketball only had a total of 6 winning seasons.

The 1989 title was just the beginning of ETSU’s dominance of the Southern Conference where they would 4 straight titles between 1989 and 1992, a feat no Southern Conference team has been able to achieve since. Those 4 years would see ETSU enter the top 25, produce an All-American and rack up wins against many well known college basketball powers. Such names like Mister Jennings, Greg Dennis, Calvin Talford, etc will forever be remembered during that historical run for ETSU.

It also set a standard for ETSU basketball and it’s fans. I know there are many ETSU basketball fans that expect nothing less than a NCAA bid each year. It doesn’t always work out that way but I do believe the 1989 Southern conference title paved the way for the success that ETSU basketball has had in the last 20 years and in the many years to come. At the top of this post I’ve attached the video of the 1989 championship against Marshall in it’s entirety so we can all relive the memory.

A recap of the top 10 so far:
#10: 2009 A-Sun Championship
#9: Calvin Talford Winning the Dunk Contest.
#8: First win against Tennessee
#7: 2003 Southern Conference Championship
#6: 2003-2004 Season
#5: Keith Jennings being named a second-team consensus All-American
#4: The 1989 Southern Conference Championship

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Top 10 Moments in ETSU Basketball: #5

#5: Keith Jennings being named a second-team consensus All-American.

For the 5th best moment in ETSU basketball history I’ve decided to go with Keith Jennings being named a second-team consensus All-American at the conclusion of the 1991 season.

Keith “Mister” Jennings is one of the most beloved and decorated players in ETSU basketball history, and rightfully so. He ranks 1st all-time in assists, steals and 3-pointers made at ETSU. Jennings also ranks 4th all-time in total points. In addition to the big numbers he put up at ETSU he also ranks in the top tier of many NCAA categories. Jennings still ranks 4th all-time in total assists in a NCAA career, 13th all-time in steals in a career and he also ranks 3rd all-time in 3-point field goal percentage in a season.

Jennings amazing play finally got recognized during his senior season, when the Bucs were ranked in the top 25 all season long, and he was awarded second-team All-American at the end of the season. Other names on the 1991 All-American list, include future NBA all-stars Larry Johnson, Shaq, Kenny Anderson, Christian Laettner and Steve Smith. Being awarded All-American was not the only national award Mister won in 1991, he also won the Frances Pomerory Naismith Award, which is awarded to the best player in college basketball under 6’0 tall.

In the 94 year history of ETSU basketball Keith Jennings is the only player to be awarded a consensus All-American. If you never had the pleasure of watching Keith Jennings play then you should check out the video at the top of this post and then you’ll understand why he is #5 on this list.

A recap of the top 10 so far:
#10: 2009 A-Sun Championship
#9: Calvin Talford Winning the Dunk Contest.
#8: First win against Tennessee
#7: 2003 Southern Conference Championship
#6: 2003-2004 Season
#5: Keith Jennings being named a second-team consensus All-American.

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Top 10 Moments in ETSU Basketball: #6

#6: 2003-2004 Season

For the 6th best moment in ETSU basketball history I’ve decided to go with the 2003-2004 season where ETSU finished 15-1 in Southern Conference games and won a total of 27 games, which is second best in school history.

There were a lot of high expectations for ETSU basketball around Johnson City when the 2003-2004 season started. The Bucs returned their two top seniors, Zakee Wadood and Jerald Field, and they also returned their dynamic sophomore PG, Tim Smith. ETSU started out with a few good wins including a win over Houston and UNC-Wilmington. However, the Bucs went 1-2 in the Rainbow Classic in Hawaii losing to both IUPUI and American. I recall being very disappointed after both losses, thinking those should have been easy wins, and I remember many other fans felt the same way, but the Bucs turned things around pretty quickly. After the loss to American the Bucs would pull off a school record 16 straight wins, including a win at Fresno State for the ESPN bracket-buster event. The 16 straight wins still stands as a school record today.

ETSU would go into the final game of the season with a 15-0 record in the conference, however the Bucs failed to get the sweep as they lost to College of Charleston, 89-91, in the final regular season game. That loss did not hurt ETSU’s confidence as they swept through the Southern Conference tournament, winning by an average of 13 points in each of the 3 games.

ETSU finished the season with an impressive 27-5 record and received a 13th seed in the NCAA tournament with a first round matchup against the Cincinnati Bearcats. The Bucs played one of the most exciting 1st round games in the whole tournament with Tim Smith wowing the crowd on several occasions and the Bucs leading with just a few minutes left, but in the end they fell short, thanks to Cincinnati 3-pointer in the last minute of the game.

I’ve including a few videos from 2004 in this post. The one at the top of the page is a highlight video of Tim Smith from the 2003-2004 season and the two at the bottom is the home game against Chattanooga and the Cincinnati NCAA tournament game.

Keep checking back this week as I’ll continue to count down the top 10 moments in ETSU basketball history.

A recap of the top 10 so far:
#10: 2009 A-Sun Championship
#9: Calvin Talford Winning the Dunk Contest.
#8: First win against Tennessee
#7: 2003 Southern Conference Championship
#6: 2003-2004 Season

ETSU vs Chattanooga in Johnson City

ETSU vs Cincinnati: 2004 NCAA Tournament

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Top 10 Moments in ETSU Basketball: #7

#7: 2003 Southern Conference Championship

For the 7th best moment in ETSU basketball history I’ve decided to go with ETSU’s 2003 Southern Conference tournament championship.

Whenever ETSU won the Southern Conference tournament in 2003 it had been a long 11 year drought for the Bucs which hadn’t made the NCAA tournament prior to that since 1992. In addition to not being to the NCAA tournament in 11 years ETSU also had a couple of very bad season during those times, including two back-to-back 7 win seasons in 1996 and 1997.

Coach Ed Dechellis took over a mess of a team when he was hired in 1997 but slowly he began to rebuild the program. In his 3rd season the Bucs won 17 games and by his 5th season ETSU had won the regular season title. There was still some work to do as ETSU came up short on a NCAA tournament bid in 2001 and 2002, but everyone knew a Socon tournament title was imminent with Zakee Wadood and Jerald Fields entering their Junior season.

In the tournament ETSU had to face the College of Charleston, who was briefly ranked in the top 25 earlier in the year, in the semi-finals in front a very pro-Charleston crowd in the North Charleston Arena. The Bucs were up to the challenge as they took out the regular season champs and faced Chattanooga in the finals. The hard work of rebuilding a basketball team, who was the worst team in the conference just 6 years earlier, had finally paid off as ETSU knocked off Chattanooga in the Southern Conference finals. For me this win was one of the most satisfying wins I’ve ever experienced as an ETSU fan. The long wait of 11 years seemed more like 20 years, especially after experiencing the 1996 and 1997 season when I thought ETSU may never return to the NCAA tournament.

ETSU would go on to face #2 seeded Wake Forest in the first round of the NCAA tournament where they nearly pulled off the upset, losing 76-73.

I’ve including a few videos from 2003 in this post. The one at the top of the page is a highlight video of both Zakee Wadood and Jerald Fields in 2003 and 2004 and the two at the bottom is Tim Smith against Wake Forest and a last minute comeback against UNCG in 2003.

Keep checking back this week as I’ll continue to count down the top 10 moments in ETSU basketball history.

A recap of the top 10 so far:
#10: 2009 A-Sun Championship
#9: Calvin Talford Winning the Dunk Contest.
#8: First win against Tennessee
#7: 2003 Southern Conference Championship

Brad Nuckles hit’s last second shot in 2003 game against UNCG

Tim Smith vs Wake Forest in the 2003 NCAA tournament

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Top 10 Moments in ETSU Basketball: #8

#8: First win against Tennessee

For the 8th best moment in ETSU basketball history I’ve decided to go with ETSU’s 83-70 win over the University of Tennessee in 1989 in front of a large ETSU crowd at Thompson-Boling arena. I went with this at #8 because as far back as I can remember whenever Tennessee appears on the ETSU schedule it’s always one of the games that I want the Bucs to win the most and to finally get that first win against the Vols in 1989 was huge for ETSU and it’s followers.

In the long history of games between ETSU and Tennessee the Bucs had always come up short in wins until the game in 1989. There were a few close calls including a one point loss in Brooks gym in the early 60’s and apparently Tennessee coach, Ray Mears, said he would never play in Johnson City again after that game.

Fast-forward about 25 years and the Bucs find themselves with one of the most talented teams in the history of the school visiting Tennessee with future NBA star Alan Houston. It was the perfect situation for the Bucs as a large number of ETSU faithful made the short drive to Knoxville with high expectations that ETSU would come back to Johnson City with a win.

The Bucs did not disappoint as they went into Thompson-Boling arena and pretty much controlled the game and almost led the whole way. Most impressive to me was how loud the Buc fans were that night. Above is a YouTube video of the game in it’s entirety and at times it almost sounds like a home game for ETSU.

A couple of years after this game ETSU went into Knoxville and got another win from the Vols behind a huge game from Jason Niblett (I’ve included highlights from this game below). ETSU has not beat UT since 1992, however, I can speak for most Buc fans when I say that when it does happen again, it will probably be another very memorable win for the program.

Keep checking back this week as I’ll continue to count down the top 10 moments in ETSU basketball history.

A recap of the top 10 so far:
#10: 2009 A-Sun Championship
#9: Calvin Talford Winning the Dunk Contest.
#8: First win against Tennessee

Highlights from the 1992 win against Tennessee

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