(Photos by Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)
The East Tennessee State basketball team was embarrassed once by Florida Gulf Coast this season.
The Bucs made sure it didn’t happen twice.
Rashawn Rembert poured in a career-high 31 points and the Bucs led wire-to-wire in an 89-81 victory Thursday night at the Dome. It was their first win of the season against one of the top three teams in the Atlantic Sun Conference standings.
The Eagles came in tied at the top with Mercer at 10-2 and were riding a four-game winning streak. They had routed the Bucs 90-62 a month ago in Fort Myers, turning a blowout into something of a dunk party in front of their frenzied crowd.
That fact wasn’t lost on the home team Thursday night.
“This is payback; that’s all it is,” said Rembert, the junior guard whose previous scoring high was 26 points. “They’re a good team, and they came out full-fledged last time. We came out full-fledged tonight.”
Rembert and Lester Wilson each made six 3-pointers as the Bucs went 12 of 30 from behind the arc. Rembert’s first two fueled a 12-point run to open the game.
From there the Bucs would hold a double-digit lead most of the way; it was 45-32 at halftime. The Eagles chipped away, however, and made it 71-67 on a Brett Comer teardrop with 3:51 left.
Wilson promptly buried a long 3-pointer from the top of the key to stem the tide, and Rembert and Jalen Riley followed with baskets in the decisive 7-0 run.
“From the beginning of the game, and yesterday on film, I saw I was going to get shots,” said Wilson, who finished with 18 points. “That last one did look good.”
The Bucs got inspired efforts all around as they improved to 15-12 overall, 8-6 in the A-Sun. They hung 89 points on a team that was leading the league in scoring defense, at just 65.3 ppg.
Hunter Harris broke loose for 14 points and 12 rebounds — more than the senior forward collected in the last four games combined. He added three blocked shots and three steals.
A.J. Merriweather also had a double-double, with 10 points and 11 boards, and Riley scored 11 points. Petey McClain dished out eight assists.
ETSU coach Murry Bartow said he took about 20 clips of game film from the first meeting between the teams and showed it to his players on Wednesday. Some of it was instructional, but much of it was motivational.
The Eagles had won in their “Dunk City” style, with Comer, the all-conference point guard, throwing it to the rim and Eric McKnight flushing it through on several occasions.
“They starting runnin’ and rippin’,” said Bartow. “I’d say they really enjoyed beating us by 28 down there.”
Comer and McKnight were very quiet in the rematch.
Comer, averaging 14 points and 5.2 assists, was limited to six and three, respectively, before fouling out in the final minute. The 6-3 junior seemed out of sorts from the beginning.
“He’s the head of the snake,” said Rembert, “and you’ve got to discombobulate him if you can. I think we did that.”
McKnight managed just three points and three rebounds. The Eagles were unable to get their run-and-gun attack going and had just one dunk on the night.
They were led by Bernard Thompson’s 23 points. The junior guard scored 17 in the second half to give his team a chance.
Chase Fieler added 17 points and eight rebounds, while Jamail Jones had 13 points and Filip Cvjeticanin 12.
Gulf Coast coach Joe Dooley said his team never really found its rhythm.
“We got off to a poor start,” he said. “Rembert and Wilson set the tone, and that put us back on our heels most of the night.”
The Eagles (16-10, 10-3) had been in Johnson City since Tuesday, watching the snow pile up, and they looked way out of their element when the game started. Dooley said the long layover was just another hurdle in a long season, one that now takes them to USC Upstate on Saturday.
“When you tip it up, you gotta be ready,” he said. “That had no impact on the game.”
ETSU closes out the regular-season home schedule Saturday against Stetson, another team that has beaten it once already. Bartow hopes senior forward Kinard-Gadsden-Gilliard is able to play. He sat out Thursday night after tweaking a knee in practice.