CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Considering its habit of losing point guards, East Tennessee State did well to avoid a complete butt-kicking on Tobacco Road.
The Buccaneers, who started freshman shooting guard Mario Stramaglia at point guard, watched No. 20 North Carolina dash and dunk its way to a 42-12 halftime lead, but did outscore the Tar Heels 43-36 in the second half to take a sliver of solace from a 78-55 loss Saturday night in the Smith Center.
UNC (7-2) assisted 30 of its 31 field goals and five Tar Heels scored at least nine points. ETSU (2-5) finished with eight assists and 22 turnovers, including a handful that helped UNC open the game with a 15-2 spurt.
Former Briarcrest Christian standout Leslie McDonald scored six of his team-high 14 points while capping that opening spurt with a pair of 3-pointers. Transition points and alley-oop dunks on backcuts behind ETSU’s zone defense soon followed, and P.J. Hairston’s 3-pointer put the Buccaneers in a 34-4 hole with 4:40 left in the half.
The good news for ETSU coach Murry Bartow and his seven scholarship players was that the Bucs outscored the Tar Heels 51-44 during a nearly 25-minute span for the game’s remainder.
“On these money games, you’ve got to try to take away something,” Bartow said. “And so that was the encouraging – obviously – thing. We’re trying to win our league. North Carolina’s not gonna be in our league. Any small victory you can take away from a game like this you’ve gotta try to take away. …
“We could’ve totally caved in and quit. I thought the guys had a lot of fight in the second half, made plays and competed hard, which is encouraging. But obviously the first half was not very good.”
Bartow said he’ll be lucky if point guard Petey McClain returns from an ankle sprain by the end of the month. Two other guards, Sheldon Cooley and Marcus Dubose, were dismissed from the team, and senior guard Jarvis Jones won’t return from academic ineligibility until the Bucs’ next game – at Ole Miss on Friday.
Stramaglia didn’t appear scared but nonetheless had a tiger by the tail, finishing with one assist and seven turnovers. Rashawn Rembert scored a game-high 18 points, but wasn’t a polished engineer on offense either (three assists, five turnovers).
“Mario is just a total two (guard) and Rashawn is kind of a two-three,” Bartow said. “You play those guys at the one tonight and I think, combined, they had 12 turnovers. You’re really putting them in a tough position – a position, really, to fail. I mean, but it’s really the only thing we can do and we’re trying to help them.
“But to be honest, I thought we kind of left them hung out to dry some and kind of left them on an island some. And obviously, they trapped us a good bit in the half-court and we didn’t handle it very well.”
Brice Johnson, a 6-foot-9 freshman, and 6-foot-7 junior Reggie Bullock scored 12 and 10 points, respectively, for the Tar Heels. Sophomore James Michael McAdoo, a 6-foot-9 forward, and freshman forward J.P. Tokoto scored nine apiece.
“There were a couple of stretches in there where we kept stealing the ball and going down,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “They had trouble running their offense. You feel bad for Murry. He’s got his point guard out and two guys that they suspended and another guy that’s out for a semester that they get back after that. …
“I don’t like to say this, but we couldn’t maintain that same type of intensity in the second half. I wish we could, but we didn’t.”
Rembert did. He scored all 18 of his points after intermission, making 7 of 13 field goal attempts, including 3-of-5 shooting from 3-point range.
Redshirt freshman wing Lester Wilson and post Hunter Harris added 13 and 11 points, respectively. The 6-foot-4 Wilson also had 11 rebounds. The 6-foot-7 Harris had eight rebounds, blocked a shot and made a couple of moves around the basket that drew audible reaction from the UNC fans.
“If he could play that way – the way he played in the second half – in our league he’s gonna really be good,” Bartow said. “I thought Rashawn Rembert continued to make some plays. That’s his third straight where he’s made some plays. That’s encouraging.”
Rembert also saw reason for optimism in the second half.
“Our game-plan coming over here was try to get better,” he said. “We’re just trying to take it one game at a time.”