JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The East Tennessee State basketball team found itself in a familiar spot in the second half against North Florida on Thursday night: down by 17 points.
This time, the Bucs couldn’t pull off a miracle comeback.
North Florida raced out to a big early lead and never trailed in a 77-64 victory over ETSU in an Atlantic Sun Conference game at the UNF Arena.
“It’s always in the back of our minds that we can come back,” ETSU’s Rashawn Rembert said. “We feel like we can come back on anybody, no matter where we are, on the road, at home. But it’s tough to do that. You can’t always get down like that and come back.”
It was North Florida’s first regular-season victory over ETSU in 15 meetings. The Ospreys, who clinched their spot in the A-Sun tournament, out-rebounded the Bucs 47-34.
ETSU fell to 9-20 overall, 7-9 in the A-Sun. It’s the first time in Murry Bartow’s 16 seasons as a head coach that a team of his has lost 20 games.
“You can look at any phase of the game and we didn’t perform well enough to win,” Bartow said. “We got our butts kicked on the glass. Offensively, we didn’t make shots, we didn’t execute. And defensively we didn’t get the job done.”
While North Florida seemed to always make the extra pass, ETSU played more than 25 minutes until its first assist, when Jarvis Jones found Rembert for a 3-pointer with 14:43 left in the game. The Bucs finished with four assists as a team.
Rembert and Jones each scored 16 points to lead ETSU. Lester Wilson was back in the starting lineup and finished with 10. Freshman Yunio Barruetta added a career-high 10.
Travis Wallace led the Ospreys (11-17, 6-9) with 17 points. Charles McRoy added 16 points and 10 rebounds, while Beau Beech added 14 points.
North Florida’s Parker Smith opened the game by hitting two of three shots from 3-point range. The A-Sun’s leading 3-point shooter made just one of eight the rest of the way and finished with 11 points.
When the Ospreys stretched their lead to 17 late in the first half, a comeback was on the minds of the Bucs. They had rallied from 17 down to beat North Florida earlier in the season and had come back to win from 20 down two other times.
“We’re capable of it, but you don’t want to get down,” Bartow said. “That’s what happened in our last three games on the road. In all three, we’ve gotten down quick.”
The Bucs missed 14 of their first 16 shots, didn’t score a point for a stretch of 6:41 and found themselves in an 18-4 hole.
Mario Stramaglia ended the scoreless run when he scored on a drive. Jones then connected for two.
But Smith swished another 3-pointer, starting a 7-0 run that put North Florida up 27-10.
ETSU outscored the Ospreys 9-4 over the final three minutes of the first half and was somehow down only 33-21 at halftime.
The Bucs managed to get the deficit to single digits, 46-38, when Rembert’s 3-pointer capped a 7-0 run midway through the second half.
Barrueta turned a positive play into a negative one when he was called for a technical foul for taunting after a dunk on an offensive rebound. Smith made both free throws and the Ospreys’ lead was back to 17 when Beech connected on a 3-pointer from the right corner with 7:38 remaining.
“It didn’t help,” Bartow said of Barrueta’s technical. “Now, I love his passion and I love his energy and you can see it on his face. That doesn’t mean you score and say something to the other guy, and that’s what he did. He was kind of mouthing off to the other guy. I’m not defending it at all, but I do like the fact that he cares and he plays with great passion.”
The Ospreys, whose largest lead was 18 in the closing minutes, attacked ETSU’s zone with some stellar interior passing.
“We just told guys to do certain things,” said North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll. “When you have Parker Smith, he just screws things up because you’ve got to guard him. And he missed some naked looks. He got naked in the first half a couple of times and missed.”
ETSU wound up shooting 37 percent. North Florida made 44 percent.
The Bucs, who have two regular-season games remaining, play at Jacksonville on Saturday afternoon.