On Feb. 2, the ETSU men’s basketball team faced VMI on the road.

Coming into the game, the Bucs’ overall record was 17-5 and tied for first in the Southern Conference with a conference record of 7-2.

The Bucs were able to pull away to win 81-71 and improve their record to 18-5 overall and 8-2 in conference play.

VMI came into the game with a 5-15 record and eighth in the SoCon with a record of 2-7.

The first half wasn’t too good for the Bucs as they struggled to make a bucket from outside. The Bucs went a cold 1-9 from the 3-point line in the first half. Despite their struggles from deep, the Bucs still shot 44 percent from the field goal.

A.J. Merriweather (Jackson, TN) led the Bucs in scoring and rebounds in the first half with six points and four rebounds.

VMI’s offensive pace was much faster than the Bucs, shooting seven more shots for the half. Despite shooting seven shots more, VMI only made 38 percent of their shots. Of the 13 shots made for VMI, six of the makes were from three. On 3-pointers, VMI shot 42 percent despite shooting so low on field goals.

The Bucs went into the half down 34-27, rebounding being a big reason. The Bucs were getting out-rebounded by eight.

“Going out of halftime, we knew we had to play our best half defensively,” said junior Desonta Bradford.

The second half was much different for the Bucs as they shot an outstanding 69 percent from the field. On the 18 shots they made for the half, eight were 3-pointers. With the lid off the rim from the 3-point range, the Bucs went 8-11 shooting 72 percent.

What contributed to a huge offensive second half was the play of veterans T.J. Cromer (Albany, Ga.) and Desonta Bradford (Humboldt, TN) after a quiet first half. The pair combined for 32 of the 54 points in the second half. They shot 12-14 from field goal and 7-8 from 3-point range.

The Bucs defense was just as active in the second half, forcing VMI to shoot 30 percent from field goal and 18 percent from 3-point range. The only thing keeping the Bucs from having a bigger point differential was foul problems. VMI was able to score 19 of their 37 points in the half from free throws.

The Bucs’ strong second half helped them win 81-71 over VMI.

Cromer was the high point man for the Bucs, scoring 24 points, but it was a balanced offensive attack that helped the Bucs win. For the game, the Bucs shot 56 percent from field goal and 45 percent from 3-point range. The Bucs defense held VMI to shoot below 40 percent on all field goals. “We know going forward we have to lock in for 40 minutes,” Bradford said. “That’s just our main thing right now.”