It felt like old times on the basketball court for forward Hunter Harris.
The former junior-college All-American had his best day in an East Tennessee State uniform Saturday, scoring 25 points and grabbing eight rebounds as the Bucs staged another big comeback to beat North Florida 89-75.
The Ospreys raced out to a 17-4 lead to start the game and were still in front 45-33 at the half after shooting 68 percent. Harris then went to work around the basket, scoring 19 of his points in the second half to lead his team back.
The 6-7, 220-pound junior made 9 of his 11 shots on the day and also got the foul line 10 times, converting seven free throws.
“Like juco life,” Harris said later with a broad smile. “I used to do that all the time.”
The Nashville native averaged 22 points and 13 rebounds last season at Volunteer State and was named a second-team NJCAA All-American. He’s been a fixture in the ETSU lineup all season but hadn’t scored more than 18 points in a game.
Coach Murry Bartow certainly liked what he saw from the ever-active Harris as the Bucs improved to 6-15 overall and evened their Atlantic Sun Conference record at 4-4.
“Hunter Harris was the Hunter Harris we thought we had when we recruited him,” said Bartow. “In junior college, he was a high-motor guy, a double-double every game. He put up big numbers.
“I haven’t done as good a job about pounding him the ball, getting him more touches. He can score in there, and he’s also a good free-throw shooter.”
Harris had a pair of baskets in the middle of a nine-point run early in the second half, then scored eight points in a 15-2 run midway through.
“Coach Bartow challenged me in the lockerroom,” said Harris, who was averaging 7.2 points and 5.3 rebounds. “He needs me to score down low.”
The Bucs took the lead for good when Rashawn Rembert buried a 3-pointer at the 9:40 mark. Lester Wilson followed with a jumper, then it was a lay-in and a free throw by Harris.
ETSU led 67-59 at the end of the run, and North Florida didn’t get closer than five the rest of the way. The Ospreys fell to 8-14, 3-6.
The Bucs erupted for 56 points in the second half and got there by shooting 60 percent from the field and making 21 of 24 free throws.
The 89 points were the most they’ve scored against a Division I opponent this season.
Defensively, they were able to stifle North Florida’s perimeter attack led by senior guard Parker Smith. The Ospreys shot 27 percent in the half and didn’t get back-to-back scores.
“It was a great, great second half,” said Bartow. “We defended well, shot it well and stuck mostly with those five guys.
“We have an incredible ability to come back. Whenever we’re down, we feel like we can make a run.”
Jones finished with 19 points for the Bucs, while Wilson collected 15 points and 10 rebounds for his second double-double at ETSU. Rembert chipped in with 12 points.
The Bucs had just seven turnovers on the day. Freshman point guard Petey McClain didn’t commit any while handing out eight assists in 34 minutes.
Smith, who came into the day with 82 3-pointers this season on 45 percent shooting, led North Florida with 26 points. That included a half-dozen from behind the arc; a couple were in the 25-foot range.
“He’s a great player,” said Jones. “Sometimes you gotta live with those shots if he’s 10 feet off the 3-point line.”
The Ospreys also got 13 points in 16 minutes from Andy Diaz. Beau Beech scored 11 and Travis Wallace 10.
The Bucs will play Monday night at South Carolina Upstate.