Rashawn Rembert is embracing a leadership role for the East Tennessee State basketball team this season.
The junior guard played the part to perfection Tuesday night, pouring in 33 points as the Bucs raced away from a scrappy Milligan College team 118-83 in their first exhibition of the preseason.
Rembert hit his first three 3-pointers and was off to the races. He finished 9 of 15 from long range to fall just one shy of Courtney Pigram’s program record for makes.
“The first one went straight through, and I said it’s going to be one of those nights,” said Rembert. “My teammates were getting me the ball and the shots kept going in.”
The Bucs made 15 of 34 from behind the arc and shot 51 percent from the field overall. They were 31 of 37 at the foul line.
ETSU coach Murry Bartow expects to see more free-flowing offense after a season in which every possession seemed to be a struggle. The Bucs averaged just 62.3 points a game; they had 68 in the second half alone Tuesday night.
Bartow still had mixed emotions after subduing the Buffs, the local NAIA team that visits the Dome early every season.
“Offensively we had a lot of good numbers,” he said. “Defensively, we were abysmal. We’re nowhere close to where we need to be.”
The Bucs got point production all around.
Freshman A.J. Merriweather tossed in 17 points, to go with seven rebounds and five steals, while junior-college transfer Jalen Riley had 16 points, and senior forward Hunter Harris added 10. All 14 Bucs scored.
But it was Rembert who dazzled the crowd of 2,988 in the Dome.
He averaged 8.9 points per game last season, with a career high of 18 at North Carolina, and was a 40 percent shooter from 3-point range. With so many new faces on this team, Rembert plans to be more of a factor.
“My role has increased largely,” he said. “I’m more of a leader now and I’ve expanded offensively. I didn’t want to come back the same person.”
Asked what he’s asking of Rembert this season, Bartow was succinct.
“Shoot every time he touches it if he’s open,” said the coach. “A year ago, he would have been a catch-and-shoot guy, but he’s added some things. He’s still not where I want him to be defensively, but he’s shooting with a lot of confidence.?“I don’t expect him to get 33 every night, but I’m not shocked tonight because he’s been doing that in practice. He had that same, exact look in his eyes.”
Bartow is also high on Merriweather, the athletic 6-2 wing from Jackson, who brings a lot of intangibles to this ETSU team.
“I wish I had 13 guys like A.J. Merriweather,” said Bartow. “He has a great motor and loves to play. He’s going to have to start … he’s the best defender on our team – it’s not even close – and he’s the most vocal guy on our team. He’s really a great kid.”
Milligan was picked to finish second in the Appalachian Athletic Conference this season, and it played a scrappy game until the stretch run. It was 50-38 at the half, and the Buffs were still within 23 with five minutes to go.
Coach Bill Robinson seemed relatively pleased under the circumstances. The Buffs have certainly been far less competitive in recent years against the Bucs.
“I’m pleased because we compete this year,” said Robinson. “If you can get a positive from a 35-point loss, this was a positive.”
Mike Woods Jr., the son of the former ETSU player, buried four 3-pointers in less than two minutes and finished with 21 points for the Buffs. The sophomore guard was 7 of 8 from long range and would appear to be a nice addition to Robinson’s roster after transferring from Cedarville University in Ohio.
Tyler Rose, with 10 points, was the only other Milligan player to score in double figures.
Robinson thought the up-tempo style of the Bucs suits them well.
“I like the fact that they’ve changed the pace,” he said. “The game is changing and kids want to get out and run. When you open things up, the talent is able to flow.”
The Bucs will host their final exhibition Saturday against Mars Hill. Gametime is 4 o’clock.