KENNESAW, Ga. -- A.J. Merriweather did all he could to get Murry Bartow his 300th career victory. Then he celebrated in his own way.
Merriweather and Rashawn Rembert scored 19 points apiece and the East Tennessee State basketball team pulled away from Kennesaw State in the second half for a 71-55 victory Saturday in its Atlantic Sun Conference opener to give their coach his 300th win.
"I had to give him a rub on the head like he would do me," said Merriweather, a freshman guard who also had 10 rebounds. "I'm proud of the guy getting 300. We're trying to get him 300 more."
For his part, Bartow was just glad to win, milestone or not. His team has won eight of its last 10 games to improve to 8-6.
"It feels like I'm getting older," said Bartow, whose mother, Ruth, attended the game. "It was a good win for us. Honestly, I could care less about that (milestone). It was just a much needed win for us. First road game in the league, Mercer staring at usMonday night. This was one we felt like we needed to get so I'm glad we got it."
Bartow's career record is 300-224 in 17 seasons at ETSU and Alabama-Birmingham. He's 197-141 with the Bucs.
ETSU scored the first 10 points of the second half to pull away from a 40-32 halftime lead. The advantage was as high as 21 points thanks to a later 9-0 run fueled by Merriweather, who had seven points during that stretch.
"We finished the first half good, and the second half ... I don't know what got into them because we didn't say a whole lot at halftime," Bartow said. "We just came out and had a great spurt to start the second half to put the game away."
ETSU has won its last 16 games against Kennesaw State (3-13 overall, 0-3 A-Sun).
The Bucs made their first four 3-point shots, with none of them even touching the rim. Rembert made the first two followed by a pair from Lester Wilson.
"I thought Rashawn and Lester's threes early were really important for us," Bartow said.
They were signs of things to come. ETSU finished 7 of 14 from 3-point range, missing its last three after a 7-for-11 start.
Rembert made all four of his 3-point tries, and he gave a pregame assist to point guard Petey McClain.
"Petey told me when we were in the room to just let it fly," Rembert said. "Thats' what I did."
From two-point range, it was a different story. While ETSU was hot from distance, it connected on only one of its first nine two-point shots. That enabled an inspired Kennesaw State team, playing its first game since coach Lewis Preston took a leave of absence, to hang around for much of the first half.
Rembert gave a ball fake and swished his fourth 3-pointer from the left corner with two seconds left in the first half, allowing the Bucs to create a little separation for the first time, a 40-32 halftime lead.
Freshman Isaac Banks came off the bench to score six points late in the first half. He made both of his field goal attempts, including a sweet midrange bank shot, and both of his free throws.
ETSU wound up shooting 55 percent, thanks to Rembert and Merriweather, each of whom went 7 of 9 from the field.
"That's very efficient," Bartow said. "Certainly what we're always looking for is a lot of efficiency. It's easier to score a lot of points on a lot of shots, but when you get 19 on nine shots, that's pretty good."
The Owls were led by Orlando Coleman's 11 points. Nate Rucker added 10.
Kennesaw State out-rebounded ETSU, 30-27. McClain and Jalen Riley each had four assists.
The Owls were being coach by associate head coach Jimmy Lallathin.
After the game, the game ball was retrieved and given to Bartow.
"Mr. 300, that's what he is now," Rembert said. "Mr. 300."
Up next is another road game, Monday night at Mercer.
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