JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Dec. 22, 2016) – Leading by one with two minutes left on its home floor, the ETSU men’s basketball team was poised to send a capacity crowd home with a special Christmas gift. Unfortunately for the Buccaneers, it did not work out that way.
Outscoring ETSU 8-3 over the final two minutes and taking advantage of a controversial foul call that gave them a two-point lead with a minute left, the Tennessee Volunteers escaped Freedom Hall and a raucous crowd of 6,149 fans with a 72-68 win over the Buccaneers Thursday night. With the loss, ETSU dropped to 9-3 on the year, while the Vols improved to 7-5 on the season.
“I know this game meant a lot of our community and our team wanted to get this one,” said ETSU head coach Steve Forbes. “I don’t think anyone can question the effort of our team tonight. We just didn’t shoot it well in the first half. We also knew going in we had to rebound and not turn the ball over, and unfortunately, we didn’t play well in those two aspects. For our team, everything we are playing for is still out there despite how big this game was to so many people. We saw a lot of blue and gold out there tonight and we are thankful for that. We hope they will be back to watch us when VMI is here to open conference play.”
For the second straight year, Tennessee guard Detrick Mostella haunted the Bucs. Exactly one year ago to the day, his 3-pointer late in the game and team high 17 points lifted the Vols to a win at Thompson-Boling Arena. On this night, his game high 25 points were a huge difference in the outcome. In particular, with the game tied at 65 and a minute left, he was fouled by ETSU senior guard A.J. Merriweather (Jackson) while driving the lane and hit both free throws. The Vols never relinquished the lead from there.
ETSU was led by a team high 14 points each from senior guards T.J. Cromer (Albany, Ga.) and Desonta Bradford (Humboldt), while Merriweather finished with 11 and junior forward David Burrell (Milwaukee, Wis.) came off the bench to net 10. Bradford also finished with a game high eight assists to go with five rebounds and two steals in 35 minutes of play.
Much of the first half was a defensive battle, with both teams struggling from the field. In fact, 13 minutes into the game, the Bucs were shooting just 19 percent compared to a 25 percent clip for the Vols. The results was a 19-16 Tennessee lead with under four minutes left before the intermission.
However, at that point, Mostella scored the final 13 points of the half for UT– going a perfect 5-of-5 from the field – and singlehandedly giving Tennessee a 32-23 advantage at the break. In the first half, Mostella led all scorers with 13 points, while Cromer finished with 10. The Bucs shot just 25 percent before the break, compared to 44 percent for the Vols.
After the intermission, the Bucs came out with a renewed energy on offense, outscoring the Vols 13-4 to tie the game at 36 on a traditional 3-point play from Hanner Mosquera-Perea (Istmina, Coloimbia) with 16:27 left in regulation. Tennessee responded to the Bucs’ threat by outscoring ETSU 15-8 over the next four minutes to regain a 51-44 edge.
However, at that point, the Bucs made the most dramatic surge of the game, outscoring the Vols 11-3 over the next three minutes of play to take the lead at 55-54 on a traditional 3-point play by Burrell. The lead changed hands five times the rest of the way before the Vols held on for the victory.
Along with Mostella, the only other Tennessee player to reach double figures was Robert Hubbs III with 11 points. The Vols out-rebounded the Bucs 44-35 and held a 22-12 advantage in second chance points.
The Bucs will now enjoy a seven-day break for the holidays, returning to action at home on Thursday, Dec. 29 to wrap up the non-conference portion of their schedule with a matchup against Savannah State.