Fewer bodies meant more minutes, and more chances, all around for the East Tennessee State basketball team Thursday night.
Guys like Rashawn Rembert took advantage.
The sophomore guard tossed in a career-high 16 points as the short-handed Bucs rolled past Milligan College 94-46 in the Dome.
“Coach told me I have to step into a bigger role,” said Rembert, whose previous high was 11 points. “I have to score more and be a leader. This is a learning experience; coach calls it learning on the fly. I like learning on the floor better than the sidelines.”
Rembert made 6 of his 10 shots, including three 3-pointers, in 32 minutes of action. He had played in 19 games as a freshman, averaging a little over six minutes a game.
Coach Murry Bartow thinks Rembert could become a key cog for an offense that has struggled to produce points against Division I competition.
“He could really change the look of our team if he can make shots,” said Bartow.
The Bucs (2-3) had nine men in uniform Thursday night, and forward Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard sat out with a sore ankle. Point guard Petey McClain, who has been slowed by tendonitis in a knee, played 11 minutes and took a seat.
Bartow essentially went with a seven-man rotation after that. On this night, he was able to get away with it easily as the Bucs (2-3) ran out to a 48-20 halftime lead against the outmanned Buffs (3-5).
“Obviously we’ve been dealt a tough hand, and we’re limited,” said Bartow, who dismissed senior guards Sheldon Cooley and Marcus Dubose earlier in the week. “I liked the fact we had four guys in double figures, and I like that we played a good second half.”
Lester Wilson led all scorers with 27 points, and he also grabbed nine rebounds as the Bucs dominated the glass 43-21. Showing off his textbook jump shot, the redshirt freshman went 9 of 15 from the field – 4 of 7 from 3-point range.
“I saw Wilson play in high school,” said Milligan coach Bill Robinson, “and he’s improved so much physically. His jump shot is so much smoother, cleaner. He’s special.”
Wilson has now led the Bucs in scoring four times in five games, and he’s averaging 19.4 points per game. He has 16 of the team’s 33 treys; many of them have barely moved the net.
“He really has a pretty shot,” said Bartow. “He’s still not close to where he will be. One thing he doesn’t have yet is the dribble game. If he gets that and becomes a better defender, he’ll have the whole package.”
As a team, the Bucs shot 55 percent from the field against the Buffs, who were limited to 37 percent and never made it to the free throw line. The Bucs took command with runs of 11-0 and 19-3 in the first half and were able to get everybody involved for extended minutes.
John Walton finished with 15 points on 7-for-11 shooting and nine rebounds, and Mario Stramaglia chipped in with 14 points. Hunter Harris had nine points, nine rebounds and three steals.
Stramaglia, a freshman from Birmingham, Ala., who was known for his perimeter shooting, hit 3 of 9 from 3-point range. He had missed his only shot in two previous appearances this season.
“It felt good,” said Stramaglia. “It’s a credit to all my teammates. We passed the ball and played as a team.”
Even junior walk-on Todd Halvorsen got heavily into the act. The Dobyns-Bennett alum played 18 minutes at point guard, and played well. He finished with seven points – the first points of his career -- and four assists.
“He was a calming influence at the point,” said Bartow. “He helped get us up to run our stuff.”
Tyler DeVault, with 10 points, was the only double-figure scorer for Milligan.
The Buffs looked a bit tired in their third game in four days. They had lost their Appalachian Athletic Conference opener at Virginia Intermont 67-65 on Wednesday night.
“It was such an emotional loss,” said Robinson. “Losses at the buzzer are tough, not just physically but emotionally. I hope this tonight didn’t hurt us; I don’t think it helped us.”
John Crowe, the former University High standout, came on late for the Buffs and swished two turnaround jumpers in the lane and blocked a shot. The 6-5 freshman had played only three minutes previously this season.
“John’s our secret weapon,” said Robinson with a chuckle. “He’s a high-energy kid, a great kid. His minutes will improve as he gets stronger.”
The Bucs now turn their attention to a tough three-game road stretch that begins Wednesday at James Madison. They’ll play at North Carolina three nights later and then at Mississippi on Dec. 14.
Bartow said he expects McClain and Gadsden-Gilliard to be available at JMU.
The Buffs host Montreat on Saturday night.