JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — Steve Forbes was disappointed in how his East Tennessee State team played, but the Bucs head coach and former Tennessee assistant was quick to credit Coach Rick Barnes and the Vols.
“I want to give the University of Tennessee credit,” said Forbes, who served as an assistant to Bruce Pearl five of the six years Pearl led the Vols to consecutive NCAA tournaments. “Coach Barnes’ team came in here and really battled.
“We can talk about scheme, threes, free throws, whatever — but if you get those loose balls and convert them, ball game. And I thought they got them.”
The Vols (7-5) got the 72-68 victory over East Tennessee State (9-3) on Thursday night in front of a sold-out Freedom Hall, holding off a furious Bucs’ rally.
“I’m proud of our team,” said Forbes, who’s in his second year as East Tennessee’s head coach. “We came back in the second half and we battled and got back into it.”
The Vols built a 32-23 halftime lead with Detrick Mostella scoring 16 of his team-high 25 points in the first 20 minutes — including 13 straight to close the opening half.
“You go on the road you need someone to step up and make some shots, and Mostella did that for them,” Forbes said. “Mostella got loose on us, and he made some big shots on us, and a couple of them with a hand in their face.”
Mostella’s biggest makes were in the closing moments, when he sank a pair of free throws with just over a minute remaining and the score tied, and then he followed up with a jumper to make it a two-possession game.
Forbes did’t pull any punches when it came to his disappointment — it’s a win he wanted badly.
“I told our players you’ve got a chance to make history tonight; you have a chance to be the only team to beat them in Johnson City,” Forbes said, referencing UT’s 8-0 road mark against the Bucs. “I wanted to give our community a Christmas present, and that was it.
“I wanted to take a picture of the scoreboard and say ‘Merry Christmas.’ “
Instead, it was Tennessee celebrating heading into the Christmas Break.
Barnes made it clear he’s not going to be giving many in-state teams the chance to host the Vols on their home courts moving forward.