HARRISONBURG, Va. — The struggles continued for the East Tennessee State basketball team.
The short-handed Bucs fell behind early and never recovered as James Madison rolled to a 70-45 victory Wednesday night at the JMU Convocation Center.
With point guard Petey McClain on the bench with an ankle injury, the Bucs had trouble getting into their offense. Simply getting the ball up the court became a difficult task as James Madison scored 25 points off of 18 ETSU turnovers.
The Dukes (3-5) had 15 steals.
Rashawn Rembert and Yunio Barruetta started in the backcourt and neither are point guards, but they were forced to handle the ball with McClain out.
“We’re telling them to bring the ball up against their press,” ETSU coach Murry Bartow said. “We had no other choice. We’re putting them in a position to fail, a very awkward unfamiliar position. We had no other way to go.
“And they were like sharks. They saw that and smelled it and came at us very aggressively. We just have to try to handle it better.”
Rembert got most of the work at the point and committed seven turnovers to go along with his 12 points.
Lester Wilson led ETSU (2-4) with 21 points, 15 of which came in the last nine minutes.
“He’s off to a good start and he’s gonna get a lot better,” Bartow said. “And he hasn’t even scratched the surface yet.”
ETSU, hammered by injuries and the dismissal of its two starting guards, dressed eight players, seven on scholarship.
“Our team is banged up but I thought we would play better than we played,” Bartow said. “The mid-major level, you can’t survive four or five injuries. If one key guy goes down, you’re in trouble. If two go down, you’re in trouble. And right now we have four or five out.
“I thought our guys fought hard and competed hard, but when you don’t score the ball, you don’t look very good.”
A.J. Davis came back from a suspension for violating team rules to lead the Dukes with 17 points.
“I was like a kid at a birthday party receiving a whole bunch of gifts,” Davis said.
The Dukes jumped out to a 14-2 lead as ETSU couldn’t find many open shots in the early going. It was 21-5 before the Bucs scored consecutive baskets for the first time all night with Rembert making one of his three early 3-pointers and John Walton scoring inside.
A modest 10-4 run for the Bucs moved them within 10 points with seven minutes left in the half. That was as close as they got all night.
The Bucs had the ball near the end of the half and were running the clock for the last shot. James Madison’s Andre Nation blocked Barrueta’s 3-point attempt with three seconds left and drove the length of the court for a buzzer-beating layup.
“The play he made at the end of the half was one of the best I’ve seen in this gym,” James Madison coach Matt Brady said.
That put James Madison up 36-20 at halftime.
An 18-3 run to start the second half allowed the Dukes to cruise. James Madison’s biggest lead was 56-24 midway through the second half.
Wilson provided a brief bright spot for ETSU, swishing three 3-pointers from the corner in a two-minute span in the second half. Wilson, the nation’s leading freshman scorer overcame a 2-for-13 shooting start to break 20 points for the fourth time in six games. He wound up 7 of 23 from the field.
James Madison had 19 assists and held the Bucs to 29 percent shooting. ETSU did manage to go 8 of 23 from 3-point range.
Nation added 11 points for the Dukes.
“I think our team needed to see playing unselfishly and playing for each other can be really fun,” Brady said. “That locker room was excited about their effort.”
The Bucs travel to Chapel Hill on Saturday to take on North Carolina. They also have games against Ole Miss and Arizona on the horizon.
“You cannot focus on winning and losing,” Bartow said. “We have to make sure we are getting better and are making progress. By the 5th of January, I think we’re gonna be really good. I think we’re gonna be good enough to compete and have a chance to win our league and go back to the NCAA Tournament.”