Tennessee finally got over the hump by winning a close game at a sold out Freedom Hall in Johnson City, Tennessee over East Tennessee State 72-68. The Vols were led by Detrick Mostella off the bench with 25 points. After a horrid shooting start by both teams, Mostella single handily changed the course of the game by scoring 15 points in a matter of minutes to put the Big Orange up 32-23 at the break. Robert Hubbs III quietly put together a solid game 11 points and 5 rebounds. Grant Williams struggled much of the night but came up huge late in the game with a basket that gave the Vols the lead 64-63 with 2:58 to play and followed that up with two huge blocks on the defensive end that helped Tennessee seal the victory. The Vols move to 7-5 as they head into SEC play after Christmas.
Offense: This game was far from a work of art if you like good offense. The score was 14-14 all as the first half moved inside of five minutes remaining in the first stanza but the offense was sparked by a big 3-point basket by Kwe Parker and then a smoking hot Mostella. The Vols went to the break after committing 10 turnovers a stat that Rick Barnes has been concerned about lately. Tennessee overcame 17 turnovers for the game and had 12 assist. This was far from the best we have seen the Vols play on offense and without Mostella bailing out the offense the outcome would have certainly been different. Shemberi Phillips also added perhaps the circus shot of the year with a 3-pointer as the shot clocked was winding down that gave the visitors a five point lead 12:58 to go in the game. It was not pretty on offense by any stretch of the imagination but the Big Orange found a way to win which was something they had not been able to do all year in close games.
Defense: What a strange game for the defense. Tennessee held ETSU to 25% from the floor in the first half and only allowed 23 points at the break. In the second half for the first 15 minutes the Vols had no answer for stopping the dribble drive of the Bucs. Parker has seen his playing time go up drastically in the past few games but had a terrible time keeping his man in front of him in the second half and it was not until Barnes committed to playing Phillips as the defender of the ETSU point guards that the Big Orange had any success getting stops in the second half. Tennessee did have a season high nine blocks with Williams having two huge ones late. ETSU shot 38 percent on the game and scored 11 points under their season average so it is hard to grade the effort too harshly but keeping the ball in front on the exterior of the defense is an area that much improve.
Rebounding: When looking at the rebounding stats it is clear the Vols won the game in this area. Overall Tennessee outscored the home team 22-12 and had a 44 to 35 advantage in total rebounding. ETSU did have 15 offensive boards but many of those were a result of the defense breaking down on the perimeter and the interior defenders having to get out of rebounding position to help stop the dribble drive. Williams had nine rebounds and Mostella continues to be an excellent rebounder as he had seven. Kyle Alexander had an excellent first half with five rebounds but failed to record another the rest of the way. Tennessee is holding its own in this area on the season and that is something many felt would be an area that would hurt the Vols all year.