The East Tennessee State basketball team played with a sense of urgency when it counted Saturday to get back on the winning track.
The Bucs broke open a tie game with 14 minutes to play, getting big second-half performances from Rashawn Rembert and Hunter Harris on their way to a 74-65 victory over Northern Kentucky.
Rembert scored 16 of his 19 points in the half, and Harris had 14 of his 17.
The Bucs (9-8, 2-2) had dropped their last two Atlantic Sun Conference games, after winning four straight. The 82-80 loss to Lipscomb on their home court Thursday night left a lingering impression.
“We had a bad taste in our mouths,” said Harris, the senior forward. “We had a players-only meeting yesterday. It was our first one and it was pretty intense. Everybody got what they needed to off their chests, and we came out today and did what we needed to.”
It still took awhile to subdue the Norse (7-11, 3-3), who have been competitive in just their second season of Division I basketball. They had come to Johnson City and won a year ago, and it looked like they were capable of doing it again.
The Bucs led 30-28 at the half, and it was a tie game at 35 when Jack Flournoy buried a 3-pointer at the 14:33 mark. But Rembert answered with a three-point play, and the Bucs embarked on a 19-5 run over the next six-plus minutes to take control.
Northern Kentucky managed back-to-back scores only twice in the second half. ETSU’s lead swelled to as much as 18, at 71-53, and the Norse were only able to make the final margin more respectable with four 3-pointers in the last two minutes.
Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard orchestrated much of the late surge for the Bucs while scoring nine of his 11 points in the second half. The 250-pound senior also handed out six assists and had seven rebounds.
“Kinard is a facilitator and doesn’t have to score a lot to make things happen,” said ETSU coach Murry Bartow. “He can make threes or go inside and bulldoze over you. And he’s a really good passer. I feel very comfortable with him on the floor.”
The Bucs finished with 18 assists against nine turnovers. Four players had at least three.
“That’s something we’ve got to get back to,” said Gadsden-Gilliard. “We’ve got a lot of guys who can score, and we’ve gotta make it easier for them.”
Northern Kentucky coach Dave Bezold said the home team looked pretty good to him. The Norse had come in with wins over Stetson, Jacksonville and North Florida, and losses to Florida Gulf Coast and USC Upstate.
“I thought this team is as talented as any we’ve seen,” said Bezold. “They’re physical, big, athletic, just a tough matchup. I haven’t seen anybody they shouldn’t be able to beat.”
Freshman A.J. Merriweather scored all 10 of his points in the first half for the Bucs, whose 45 percent shooting from the field included 8 of 16 on 3-pointers.
Rembert made three from long range to go with four assists and four steals. Harris, the A-Sun leader in field-goal percentage, hit 6 of his 8 shots to score in double figures for the third straight game. He was held under 10 for the previous five.
“He’s a little inconsistent; we just need him steady,” said Bartow. “The key is what he will do at Stetson on Thursday night. Can he get us 17 again?”
The Bucs will play at defending champion Florida Gulf Coast next Saturday before returning to the Dome for a five-game homestand. The Eagles suffered their first conference loss at Jacksonville on Saturday.
Jordan Jackson led Northern Kentucky with 20 points and four steals. Daniel Camps scored 12 and Jalen Billups chipped in with 10 points and 12 rebounds.
Bezold said this season is presenting more challenges for the Norse than their A-Sun debut a year ago, when they finished 9-9 in the standings.
“I think it’s harder this year,” he said. “We’re starting over with no starters back, and the league has seen us once. That’s where we are in the program.”