Snow flurries peppered down as the East Tennessee State basketball team boarded its bus to the airport Wednesday morning. It was a good time to be flying south.
The Bucs are making the swing from central Florida to the Gulf Coast for the last time as members of the Atlantic Sun Conference. They play at Stetson tonight in DeLand, then travel down to Fort Myers to face defending champion Florida Gulf Coast on Saturday night.
The Sunshine State is an inviting destination in January, and that’s especially true for Rashawn Rembert. The junior guard is a native of Tampa and looks forward to seeing family and friends in the stands whenever the Bucs visit the area.
“It never gets old playing down here,” Rembert said Wednesday afternoon after arriving in Orlando to temperatures in the low 70s. “I had about 20 people last year at both games and hopefully can double it this year. It’s just good to be back.”
Rembert is one of three Floridians on the ETSU team, along with senior forward Lukas Poderis and freshman guard Devin Harris, and he returns this season as one of the A-Sun’s best players.
He’s fourth in scoring, at 15.4 points per game, and is shooting the ball exceptionally well. His 48 3-pointers leads the league, and he’s making them at a 44 percent clip.
ETSU coach Murry Bartow has called Rembert the best shooter in the conference, and he’s seen nothing to change his mind early this season.
“He’s really shooting the ball with a lot of confidence,” said Bartow. “He’s better at scoring on the move this year, and he’s becoming a better defender, too. His overall performance has just gone up, and I think he can get a lot better.”
Rembert was one of the few bright spots in a bad season for the Bucs a year ago.
With the team short-handed, he found himself on the floor more than 27 minutes a game and took advantage, finishing the season with an 8.9 scoring average and 58 3-pointers. He had played a little over six minutes a game as a freshman.
“If you look at the evolution, Rashawn went from not playing much to playing a lot last year,” said Bartow, “and it carried over to the summer. He probably worked harder than anybody on the team to develop his game, and now it shows.”
Rembert said a lot of his progress on the learning curve has been subtle.
“I’ve learned to play within the pace of the game,” he said. “Last year I was quick to rush and try to make something spectacular happen. Now I let the game come to me a little more.”
The Bucs (9-8, 2-2) would figure to at least get at least a split on this road trip. Stetson is 3-14 under first-year coach Corey Williams, a former Florida State assistant, and has won only one of its first five conference games.
Of course, the Hatters have always been an inexplicably difficult matchup for the Bucs, who hold an 11-8 edge in the series. The teams have split during the regular season for the last five years.
Last season in DeLand the Bucs had to rally from 20 points down with 12 minutes left to pull out a 62-61 victory. They had lost by two at home earlier.
So Bartow has reason to be wary tonight.
“The thing that concerns me is their overall record is not good, but they’ve played six home games and won three,” he said. “They lost another by two and another by six. They’ve been very competitive on their home floor.
“If we don’t play well, we’ll lose the game.”
Senior forward Willie Green (13.1) is the only double-figure scorer for the Hatters. Aaron Graham, Ramone Andrews and Kentwan Smith all average more than nine points a game.
The Hatters are last in the league in scoring (61.6) and rebound margin (-6.1).