It was the first game for the Owls since coach Lewis Preston took a leave of absence for health and personal reasons earlier in the week.
Associate head coach Jimmy Lallathin assumed the role as interim coach, and for the first 18 minutes of the game, the team seemed to respond to the challenge.
In that stretch, Kennesaw State outscored the Buccaneers 18-6 in the paint, beat them on the glass 18-15 and made the hustle plays for loose balls.
Despite the effort, the game was tied at 30-all when East Tennessee closed the first half on an 10-2 run, capped with Rembert’s 3-pointer — his fourth, and the Buccaneers’ seventh of the game — with 3 seconds to play.
“Rembert was really big in the first half,” said East Tennessee coach Murry Bartow, who recorded the 300th victory of his career. “Those 3-pointers were really big, because it allowed us to spread it out a little bit.”
Kennesaw State (3-13, 0-3 Atlantic Sun) was unable to match their first-half effort in the closing 20 minutes.
East Tennessee (8-6, 1-0) opened the second half on a 14-4 run to stretch the lead to 54-36. The Bucs did so by eliminating the Owls’ passing lanes into the paint, and it led to turnovers the first five trips down the floor.
“It was young kids making some young mistakes,” Lallathin said. “(East Tennessee is) long and we told them we weren’t going to win passing over them. We had to pass under them. The turnovers and deflections started when we tried to pass over them.”
The Owls cut the Bucs’ advantage to 12 with 9:30 left, but East Tennessee pushed it to as many as 21 before it was over.
“I thought we had some good highlights (Saturday),” Lallathin said. “Sustainability was our biggest problem, along with not limiting mistakes.
“We had 40 minutes of great effort, but only 32 of great execution. You see high moments and you see some low. We’re just too erratic right now.”
Orlando Coleman led Kennesaw State with 11 points and Nate Rucker had 10. The Owls are currently on a nine-game conference losing streak, and they’ve lost eight straight games by at least 16 points.
Kennesaw State athletic director Vaughn Williams expects Preston to return later this season — as soon as a week or two — but the Owls have a busy schedule over the next two weeks. They return to the floor Monday when USC-Upstate comes to campus, and then they’re at Mercer on Friday.
If Preston isn’t back by then, Kennesaw State will have a stretch of three games — at Lipscomb and Northern Kentucky, and home against Stetson — in eight days from Jan. 16-23.
Williams has said he has confidence in Lallathin’s ability to hold things together until Preston returns, and Bartow agrees, but he said it will be a challenge.
“It’s not going to be easy,” he said. “Any time you are losing and you lose your coach, it’s tough. But those guys on the staff are quality coaches, and they will do a good job.”