The East Tennessee State basketball team will be at home early and often this season, but the friendly confines were of little help the first time out.
The Bucs were outscrapped and outhustled by Morehead State in the second half of their home opener Tuesday night and lost 71-63.
They had led by six at the break but were outscored 46-32 by the Eagles in the second half.
“It was just energy — energy and leadership,” said junior guard Rashawn Rembert, who led the Bucs with 21 points. “If you looked at their bench, they seemed energized every play, whether they were up or down. They got that spark … they just wanted it more.
“It comes down to being tough.”
Angelo Warner was the toughest for the Bucs to contain down the stretch. With the score tied at 57, the junior guard scored in the paint, then hit a 3-pointer to give Morehead a five-point lead it would never relinquish.
Warner added his fourth three a minute later on his way to a career-high 25-point, 10-rebound performance.
“Angelo Warner is one of the best-kept secrets in college basketball,” said Morehead State coach Sean Woods. “He was not going to let us lose tonight.”
That being said, the battle was won on the boards. The Eagles (2-0) pulled down 20 offensive rebounds and held a 45-30 advantage overall.
Chad Posthumus, their 6-11 senior, had eight rebounds and 6-10 Billy Reeder pulled down seven.
“Our bigs really wore them down,” said Woods.
The rebounding margin was 25-12 in the second half, leading ETSU coach Murry Bartow to wonder what happened to the team that was seemingly in control early.
“That was a very disappointing second half,” he said. “We did some good things in the first half and had the game right where we wanted it to be. The second half they just pounded us, crushed us on the glass.”
The Bucs (0-2) also had trouble containing the Morehead guards. Besides Warner, Brent Arrington collected 15 points and four steals, and Kareem Story chipped in with six assists and three steals.
The Bucs got an outstanding effort from freshman A.J. Merriweather, who had 12 points and 11 assists. Lester Wilson added 13 points but was 4 of 14 from the field.
“I know for us to be good, seven or eight have to come to play,” said Bartow. “I saw one guy in the second half tonight, and that was A.J. Merriweather. From the rest, I saw nothing.”
Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard, who had scored a career-high 31 points in the Bucs’ 80-75 season-opening loss at Charlotte, managed just two against the Eagles in 10 minutes. He was 1 of 6 from the field.
Lukas Poderis, the fifth-year senior forward, never even got into the game to try to combat Morehead’s strength on the boards.
“I just didn’t play him, based on who’s been playing well in practice,” said Bartow. “In hindsight, maybe I should have played Lukas. I probably should have played Ike (Isaac Banks) more. Those are my mistakes.”
The Bucs didn’t do much to whip up the crowd of 2,402 on a brisk November night. They needed 4 ½ minutes to score their first point, leaving the fans to stand as they waited for a basket until a timeout was finally called 7-0.
Most fans took a seat and didn’t get back up.
But from there, the momentum swung in a big way. The Bucs put together a 21-3 run, fueled by eight points by Wilson.
Morehead State was held scoreless for more than seven minutes and trailed 21-10. But the Eagles responded with seven straight points and it was 31-25 at halftime.
When they reclaimed the lead seven minutes into the second half, the game was on. ETSU held its last lead after a pair of free throws by Merriweather made it 51-49 with 8:45 left.
The Bucs will try to get their first win Saturday night at Western Kentucky. Their next home game is next Tuesday against Winthrop; that starts a three-game homestand.