Hunter Harris answered the challenge with a spirited performance.
East Tennessee State’s senior forward shook off a lethargic stretch of games by posting his second double-double of the season Thursday night in an 89-81 victory over Florida Gulf Coast. Harris’s stat line of 14 points, 12 rebounds, three blocked shots and three steals was more than he had produced in the previous four games combined.
“I approached it like I had to get it going,” he said. “It was good for me to get it going early.”
Harris scored four points in an opening 12-point flurry by the Bucs, and they were never headed in snapping the Atlantic Sun Conference co-leader’s four-game winning streak. ETSU coach Murry Bartow had said before the contest that Harris probably had to play well for his team to win, and he passed that thought along to everyone.
“We challenged him,” said Bartow. “We asked him in front of the team, ‘Can you beat (Eric) McKnight?’ He said he could. He had his motor running tonight and was more physical around the rim.”
That’s the way the Nashville native wants to end his college career. He and classmates Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard, Lukas Poderis and Todd Halvorsen will celebrate Senior Day this afternoon when Stetson visits the Dome.
It’s the last home game on the regular-season schedule for the Bucs, but they could host an A-Sun quarterfinal on March 4 if they’re one of the top four seeds. The higher surviving seeds will continue to host in the new postseason format.
“We’re gonna get another game in the tournament,” said Harris.
Right now ETSU (15-12, 8-6) is in fourth place in the standings, but five teams are separated by two losses heading into the final two weeks. The Bucs play their last three on the road.
The Bucs used payback as a driving force to beat Florida Gulf Coast, which had dusted them by 28 earlier in the season and really seemed to enjoy it, Bartow noted Thursday night. They can do the same today.
The Hatters (7-17, 5-7) knocked them off 64-58 two days before the game in Fort Myers.
It’s been a tough matchup for the Bucs since they joined the A-Sun in 2005. The teams have split for the five seasons, and ETSU holds just an 11-9 advantage in the series.
“Stetson is a team that really concerns me,” said Bartow.
The coach hopes Gadsden-Gilliard is available for duty today. He sat out Thursday night’s game with a knee injury, though it wasn’t thought to be serious.
The Bucs were able to get by without the big man, who had started all but two games this season, thanks to an offense that rang up 89 points against the league’s stingiest defense. The Eagles had been allowing just 65.2 per game.
Junior guard Rashawn Rembert led the way with a career-high 31 points. He and Lester Wilson each made a half-dozen 3-pointers.
The Bucs had missed 10 in a row from long range when Wilson buried the biggest shot, a deep three from the top of the key with 3:41 left after the Eagles had whittled an 18-point lead to four.
Freshman A.J. Merriweather joined Harris with a double-double for the Bucs, having totaled 10 points and 11 rebounds.
All in all, it was sweet payback for the Bucs, who won with just a seven-man rotation. They didn’t need much prodding from Bartow.
“He didn’t have to do anything,” said Wilson. “They beat us to sleep down there.”
The Stetson loss was a much different affair. The game was a typical grind, tied with a minute and half left, and the Hatters scored the last six points.
“We lost one down there we felt like we shouldn’t have lost,” said Harris, who led a fairly anemic attack with 13 points.
Notes: Stetson was supposed to play Thursday night at USC Upstate, but couldn’t get to Spartanburg as scheduled because of the snowstorm that swept through the Southeast. …
Senior forward Willie Harris leads the Hatters in scoring, at 14.1 ppg; he’s the only double-figure scorer. The team ranks last in the A-Sun in scoring (62.4).