"That trap really threw us off," Vol forward Dane Bradshaw said. "They hadn't run that at all this year. They gambled with it early on to see if it was going to work. Obviously, it did."
Indeed. The Bucs' aggressive trap press forced 16 first-half turnovers. Many of these occurred during a three-minute explosion that saw ETSU outscore Tennessee 16-0, whittling a 35-17 lead to 35-33 late in the first half.
The Bucs began the second half the way they ended the first, forcing turnovers and scoring easy buckets in transition. ETSU made eight of its first nine shots after intermission, turning a 41-39 halftime deficit into a 58-52 lead with 15:23 remaining.
With the visitors dominating the action, things were looking bleak for the home team. Vol head coach Bruce Pearl conceded that "A lot of teams, facing that kind of inspired effort, could've folded."
The Vols didn't, though.
JaJuan Smith, who scored Tennessee's first 11 points of the game, went on another binge at this point. He drove coast to coast for a layup, then nailed a 3 from the left wing. After a Chris Lofton layup on a backdoor cut, Smith scored on a tip-in and Wayne Chism hit two free throws to cap an 11-0 spurt that gave Tennessee the lead for good at 63-58.
Lofton, who hit a school record 13 of 13 free throws, made six of these in the game's final 37 seconds to keep the Bucs at bay.
Pearl congratulated the visitors, now 8-6, for "a terrific effort," but noted that they had nine days to prepare for the game – Tennessee had one day – and "did some things defensively they hadn't shown before."
ETSU was incredibly physical and feisty on defense, a ploy which caused the Vols to make a lot of turnovers (23) AND make a lot of free throws (30).
"We shot 35 free throws," Pearl noted, "and we could've shot 55."
Lofton finished with 28 points and Smith 23. Ramar Smith chipped in 11 points and Dane Bradshaw 10.
Tennessee failed to protect the ball in the first half (when ETSU forced 16 turnovers) and failed to protect the basket in the second half (when ETSU shot 58.1 percent). Still, the Vols escaped the trap, thanks to what Pearl called "some cagey veterans – particularly Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith – who stepped up in the second half and made some big plays for us."
RAMAR, DUKE DISCIPLINED
Freshmen Duke Crews and Ramar Smith were withheld from the starting lineup Saturday night for disciplinary reasons.
"Ramar and Duke were late for breakfast this morning," said Pearl, who started Wayne Chism in Crews' post position and Ryan Childress at power forward, with Dane Bradshaw moving from power forward to the point in Smith's absence.
Crews and Smith sat out the first four minutes before entering play with 15:56 to go in the first half.
"When they show up late, they miss a start," Pearl explained. "If they're coming off the bench, they move further down the bench and miss rotation.
"They won't be late again."