VolQuest - Vols survive a tough one, four quick takes
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Vols survive a tough one, four quick takes

Johnson City, Tenn. -- Tennessee hung on late against a pesky ETSU team, surviving a tough road test 72-68 in the last non-conference game before SEC play begins. Here are four quick takes on the win.

1 — Grind it out — Both teams had a great deal of trouble getting into an offensive rhythm early. Tennessee showed up on defense though, which was a good thing considering they had some severe dry spells in the early going. They held ETSU to a 3-of-19 start from the floor in the first 12 minutes of the game, but the problem was that they weren’t much better themselves, starting 4-of-16 from the field and going more than five minutes at one point in the first half without a point.

It was a gritty start for Tennessee though in a game that wasn’t lacking in intensity to say the least. The Vols didn’t allow their sketchy offense to impact their defensive effort, something that’s often easier said than done with a young team.

The game stood tied at 12-12 with five minutes still remaining in the first half, a score more indicative of a defensive struggle on the football field than a basketball game between two teams that aren’t afraid to push the pace.

The Vols got some relief when Detrick Mostella heated up late in the first half, which made that early defensive effort hold up.

2 — Mostella the ‘microwave’ — With apologies to Vinnie Johnson, Detrick Mostella is becoming the Vols’ version of instant offense off the bench. He ignited the Vols in the first half tonight at a time when they simply couldn’t buy a bucket.

He rolled into the game and scored 11 points in the final five minutes of the first half, including three straight three long range bombs that, one that beat the buzzer and gave Tennessee a 32-23 halftime lead. That explosion completely changed the complexion of a game that had been a complete defensive struggle to that point.

The Vols were desperate for some offense in that first half and Mostella delivered. He was 5-of-7 from the field in the first 20 minutes while the rest of the guys in orange were 7-for-20. That included a tough start for leading scorer Robert Hubbs, who was 1-of-5 from the field with four points in that first half.

Mostella continued to carry the offensive load for his team in the second half in similar fashion. He finished with 25 points, made 8-of-15 from the field and was a pivotal 6-for-6 at the free throw line, several of those makes coming in the decisive final moments.

The rest of the Vols, outside of Mostella were a combined 16-of-40 from the field. To say that they needed him tonight is a vast understatement.

For a player who has famously struggled with consistency, tonight’s effort, coming on the heels of a 15 point second half against Gonzaga, could perhaps be a sign that he’s finally turning the corner.

3 — Second half start — Seems like this is ALWAYS a topic in this space the only mystery is whether we’re going to be discussing the start of the game or the start of the second half. Tonight it was the second half, when it took Tennessee 3:28 to squander a hard earned nine point halftime lead.

ETSU rattled off a 13-4 run in the first three minutes of the second half to quickly let the Vols know they weren’t going away just because of a bad first half. ETSU tied the at 36-36 and appeared to have a ton of momentum on its side, but the Vols were able to regroup and claw their way back on top, going up by seven points at one stage, but ETSU just wouldn’t go away.

The Bucs took the lead back at 55-54 on a three-point play from David Burrell with 9:20 left in the game and from there, the contest settled into a back and forth slugfest.

At one point in the final 10 minutes ETSU made five straight shots from the field, not a positive comment on the Vols’ late-game defense but they were able to hunker down and get it done in the final moments, largely because of the defense.

4 — Coming through at crunch time — Tennessee has not excelled at closing out games, but they were able to do it tonight in hostile environment against a highly motivated opponent.

It definitely wasn’t pretty but Tennessee got it done when it mattered, really the first time they’ve been able to say that after coming up short in tight spots late against Oregon, Wisconsin and UNC.

They certainly had a chance to falter tonight but they didn’t. That was partially thanks to Mostella’s huge night, but probably more about the Vols’ defense.

ETSU opened the second half by shooting 66% from the floor in the first 12 minutes of play as they worked themselves back into the game. The Vols put the clamps on when it mattered though.

After ETSU went on top 62-60 with 4:51 left Tennessee held them to just 2-of-8 shooting over the remainder of the game and one of those was a meaningless three-pointer with just :06 left.

It was a strong effort for a young team that’s shorthanded and playing against an ETSU squad that viewed this game as their Super Bowl.