Tuesday was a big day at East Tennessee State University for two reasons.
The team headed out of the parking lot of the Mini Dome for the airport to take flight to Florida and students got the chance to win free tickets to the game.
Prior to the departure of the bus, fans could win a free ticket to the game if they were the first 50 people in line at the D.P. Culp Center.
At around 11 a.m. there was already a group forming around the area where students pulled a ticket to hold their number in line. One student had a sign that read: “This Chair = $35, Classes skipped = $30/per, SoCon Champ Gear = $100, Being first in line to see the Bucs in Orlando = Priceless.”
This student was Mathew Hinkle.
Fans could not truly “camp” in the D.P. Culp Center for a ticket due to hours of operation, but Hinkle got in a tad bit earlier than most students could or staff and claimed first in line.
4:30 a.m. to be exact.
Hinkle is a fifth year at ETSU and is a big-time sport fantastic.
“Sports is pretty much my life,” Hinkle said. “That’s all I care about and basketball is my favorite as far as watching here at ETSU. I love baseball games, football games but the competitiveness of our basketball team is what makes it fun and the atmosphere we bring to Freedom Hall.”
Hinkle says he especially became a fan of the ETSU basketball team when Head Coach Steve Forbes arrived.
Hinkle is from Greeneville, Tennessee, and is a fan of the Vols as well. He feels the rivalry between Tennessee and Florida adds to the anticipation of the Bucs competing against them in the NCAA tournament.
He believes the Bucs will handle business on Thursday and advance to the next round.
“I think with Florida losing their top rebounder (John Egbunu), Hanner Mosquera-Perea and AJ Merriweather are definitely going to eat the boards,” Hinkle said. “I feel like we’ll be fine on the defensive end, we have one of the best defenses in the country. They’re solid on defense too so I don’t think it will be a high-scoring game but we will definitely pull it out.”
Hinkle makes a good point about Florida’s center John Egbunu being out with an injury. Both teams have a similar play as they both have a fast offense and score well off transition. They both also have solid defenses.
At the 2 p.m. send-off for the team near the mini-dome, the crowd was ebullient. A half ring of dozens of students surrounded the bus and cheered for the team as they got into the bus.
This marks ETSU’s 10th appearance in the NCAA tournament, with the last appearance being in 2010 when they lost to Kentucky. When entering the tournament, the Bucs haven’t had much success. The Bucs have won two total games when appearing in the tournament.
Florida has a little more experience, as they now have a total of 20 tournament appearances, winning the title in 2006 and 2007. In tournament history, Florida has 42 wins and 17 losses.
But past numbers won’t play a part in Thursday’s game.
The match is going to go down to turnovers and getting to the boards. Based off how both teams play, turnovers are very critical and they can and will cause either Florida or ETSU to lose the game. Same with rebounding. The big men on both teams will be key in controlling the game as well.
ETSU enters the game with an overall record of 27-7 and Florida enters with an overall record of 24-8.
Thursday’s game will be in the Amway Center in Orlando. Tipoff is set for 3:10 p.m.