Ending a nine-day layoff, the East Tennessee State basketball team switched into something resembling exhibition mode and piled up the points Monday night.
Junior guards Jalen Riley and Rashawn Rembert combined for 54 points, including nine 3-pointers, as the Bucs raced past Tusculum 108-87 for their first win of the season in the Dome.
Riley did most of his damage at the foul line, making 13 of 14 free throws on his way to 28 points, while Rembert buried six 3-pointers and finished with 26. Those were career highs for each.
“I’m starting to feel more comfortable,” said Riley, a junior-college transfer, “and when we’re both making shots, it’s beneficial to the team as a whole.”
The Bucs (5-6) made 12 of 29 from behind the 3-point arc and were 26 of 30 from the foul line.
ETSU coach Murry Bartow liked what he saw from his guard tandem, especially the way Riley went about his business.
“The encouraging thing with Jalen is he was efficient,” said Bartow. “He got 28 on only 10 shots. He’s one of those guys who gets into the paint and forces officials to call fouls. And he’s a great free throw shooter.”
As for Rembert, the more good looks, the better. He went 6 of 13 on threes Monday night to start a new streak. He had made at least one 3-pointer in 36 consecutive games before coming up empty in the team’s last outing, at Georgia Tech.
“I think he’s the best shooter in our league,” said Bartow. “We want him to shoot as many times as he’s open.”
The Bucs also got 13 points and nine rebounds from Lester Wilson, and 12 and nine, respectively, from freshman Isaac Banks.
With his length and quickness, the 6-7 Banks looks like a player that will be seeing more action as the season wears on. He was on the floor for 24 minutes Monday night and made 5 of 7 shots.
The New Orleans native hadn’t scored more than two points in any game this season and was averaging just over five minutes per game.
“Coach called my number today,” he said. “He told me to have fun and go out and do what I do best, rebound. It’s just a matter of me getting time, getting my feet wet.”
Bartow says there’s a lot more to Banks’ game than rebounding, and it will show in due course.
“He reminds me of a young Isiah Brown,” said Bartow, referring to the school’s career blocks leader. “He’s 212 pounds today, and once we get him to 225 he’ll be an all-conference caliber player. Offensively he hasn’t shown it yet, but he’s a very good shooter. He’s a great kid, a very good student … just the whole package.”
The Bucs played without starting forward Hunter Harris, who was home in Nashville tending to a “family situation,” according to Bartow. He’s expected back on campus today.
The Bucs certainly had more than enough firepower to subdue a Tusculum team that is struggling mightily. The Pioneers fell to 1-11 with their ninth straight loss.
The teams had played 59 times previously – ETSU now leads the series 41-19 – but not in a regular-season game since 1959.
Early on, it was hard to tell which was the Division II team.
The Bucs struggled to convert on their end, or contain Chase Mounce inside on the other. They still trailed seven minutes into the contest.
Mounce, a 6-10 redshirt freshman with a deft touch around the basket, apparently came from nowhere to score 18 points. His previous high this season was seven.
Rembert finally got ETSU untracked with back-to-back threes to spark a 14-2 run. Banks got the last three baskets and the Bucs were on their way.
It was a 49-35 game at half, and ETSU rang up 59 points after intermission on 58 percent shooting.
Tusculum could have been beaten badly, but it kept making shots down the stretch. The Pioneers scored 52 points in the second half and made 11 3-pointers on the night.
“Tusculum is good offensively; they average 80 a game,” said Bartow. “We didn’t guard them very well either.”
Addison Flynn led the Pioneers with 20 points. Darius Carter scored 13, and Jalen Walker chipped in with 10.
The game was the first for the Bucs since a 30-point whipping at Georgia Tech on Dec. 7 and started a three-game homestand to end the year. Austin Peay will visit on Saturday and Valparaiso on Dec. 29.
The Bucs had played their last three games at Freedom Hall, winning all three. They had dropped their first two home games at the Dome.