Rashawn Rembert had the eye-popping game, but A.J. Merriweather’s college basketball debut didn’t escape notice Tuesday night.
The freshman wing went 5 of 6 from the field, 7 of 8 from the foul line and scored 17 points, with seven rebounds and five steals in East Tennessee State’s 118-83 exhibition victory over Milligan College.
“It was fun,” said Merriweather, an all-stater at Jackson South Side last season. “I had a lot of energy. I try to bring that every night, every practice.”
The youngster has certainly made an impression on his head coach. Murry Bartow gushed afterward that he’d like to have a whole team of players like Merriweather, calling him the Bucs’ best defender by far and a vocal presence.
It’s not the kind of thing you generally hear about an 18-year-old who has yet to play an official college game.
“We’re going to practice at 6:25 Thursday morning, and he’ll be the loudest guy in the gym,” said Bartow. “He just has great passion and energy.”
Merriweather had called himself the team’s “dog” a few weeks back, meaning he enjoys motivating those around him. He said it with a broad smile. In Tuesday’s exhibition, he proved to be an explosive leaper at 6-2 and a guy who doesn’t mind diving on the floor for a loose ball or two.
Don’t expect him to come off the bench much longer, if at all.
“He’s going to have to start,” said Bartow, who can make it happen in Saturday’s final exhibition against Mars Hill.
The Bucs put up all sorts of good offensive numbers against an outmanned Milligan team – most notably the 33 points by Rembert, who tossed in nine of his team’s 15 3-pointers.
One of the more pleasant surprises was at the foul line, where they went 31 of 37 (84 percent). Bartow said this would be an excellent season to make free throws, because teams are likely going to be shooting a bunch more than usual.
“The way the game is being officiated this year is dramatically different,” he said. “They’re trying to take the hands out of the game defensively, and there’s going to be a lot more fouls called. Any bump, touching, they’re going to call it.
“If you know the game is being called that way, you gotta coach that way and play that way.”
The fan base has another chance to interact with football coach Carl Torbush this weekend.
Torbush will be joined for a homecoming meet-and-greet Saturday by Phillip Fulmer, the former Tennessee coach and ETSU consultant, and university president Brian Noland. The event in the auxiliary gym on the east side of the Dome will run from 10 a.m. until noon.
Athletic director Richard Sander will address the group. Former ETSU players, coaches, trainers, equipment managers and cheerleaders are encouraged to attend.
A homecoming tailgate celebration will follow in the quad area outside Brooks Gym at 12:30.
ETSU was the preseason pick to win the men’s cross country championship in the Atlantic Sun Conference, and the Bucs can deliver Saturday in Nashville.
Second a year ago, they’ll have to beat a Lipscomb team that knows the terrain very well.
“On paper it’s a two-team battle between us and Lipscomb,” coach George Watts said Wednesday. “Lipscomb is ranked first in the coaches’ poll right now and it’s on their home course, so they’re probably the favorite.”
The Bucs have to deal with some nagging injuries to three of their top five runners – juniors Adam Chase and Sean Duffy, and freshman Simeon Roberts.
“They’re all going to run,” said Watts, “and they’ll have to put the injuries in the back of their minds and push through it. I think they’ll be OK.”
Junior Filip Jalovy has been the team’s top performer most of the fall and has an outside shot at the individual championship. The favorite is J.J. Webber of Northern Kentucky.
“Filip was third last year, and we need him to do that again and have some other guys run well,” said Watts. “The guy at Northern Kentucky has beaten our guys soundly a couple of times. If he runs his normal race, he’ll be tough to beat again.”
ETSU also has a contender on the women’s side in Katie Hirko.
The sophomore finished fourth in the conference meet a year ago and has run near the front in almost every meet since showing up on campus. Hirko was the A-Sun runner of the week last week after a fourth-place finish at the Blue Ridge Open in Boone, N.C.
“She’s done really well,” said Watts. “I think it has opened her mind to becoming down the road a national-level runner.”
The favorite Saturday will be defending champion Dani Walker of Lipscomb. The Bison are also the top-ranked team.
Watts says the Lady Bucs could finish as high as second, “but third or fourth would be a good accomplishment.”
ETSU is again alone in first place in the conference volleyball race.
The defending champs had slipped into a tie with Jacksonville after a 3-2 loss in Florida a couple of weeks ago, but the Dolphins were knocked off by Lipscomb last Saturday. So it’s ETSU at 11-1 and Jacksonville and Lipscomb tied at 10-2 with six matches left.
The Bucs play at Florida Gulf Coast on Friday night and at Stetson on Saturday, then return home to finish the regular season. The last date is a rematch with Jacksonville on Nov. 16.
It has already been a record-setting season for a couple of ETSU players from Kingsport.
Junior Meredith Hardy broke the A-Sun mark for career blocks Tuesday night with eight in a 3-0 shutout of Kennesaw State. That boosted her total to 429; she has at least one in 86 consecutive matches.
Hardy’s record-breaking night came two weeks after teammate Megan Devine set a new A-Sun mark for kills.
Having a Rhys on the roster has been very good for ETSU golf.
Junior Rhys Pugh is the latest to carry on the tradition. An accomplished international amateur, the Welshman has three straight top-10 finishes for the Bucs this fall. Pugh has twice played on Europe’s Walker Cup team, won the European Amateur and Irish Amateur and advanced to match play at the U.S. Amateur.
“He’s an exceptionally talented young man,” said coach Fred Warren. “He’s from a small town in Wales and just has a great attitude, on and off the course. The paradox is that has hasn’t won yet over here, but he has beaten a lot of these guys in Europe. He’s really had an outstanding amateur career.”
Warren will have had a Rhys from Great Britain for 12 years out of his 29 as ETSU’s coach by the end of next season. It began with Rhys Davies, the program’s most decorated player, and continued with Rhys Enoch.
“As a recruit on paper, Rhys Pugh was higher than either of them,” said Warren.
Pugh and the Bucs will be heading back to Hawaii on Friday for the Warrior Princeville Makai Invitational. The 54-hole event on the island of Kauai marks the end of the team’s fall schedule.
The Bucs have won a tournament, at N.C. State, and finished fourth in their own event, the Bank of Tennessee Intercollegiate at Blackthorn Club. They finished back in the pack in the other three.
“First of all, I think we have a very talented young team,” said Warren. “We only have one junior and are headed in the right direction. We’re doing a lot of good things.”
The women’s golf team wrapped up a very productive fall schedule Monday with a third-place finish in the Palmetto Intercollegiate at Kiawah Island, S.C.
In five events, the Lady Bucs had finishes of sixth, fourth, fifth, first and third. They won the Lady Pirate Intercollegiate at East Carolina on Oct. 7.
“We are very proud of our win and our finishes above teams ranked higher than we are, so we’re really looking forward to the spring season,” said coach Stefanie Shelton.
Sophomore Vivienne Chin finished sixth at Kiawah after closing with a 1-over-par 73. Junior Gabrielle Wahl matched that score and tied for 26th.