JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — Tennessee’s young basketball team showed signs it’s growing up in a hurry with a gritty win over East Tennessee State on Thursday night.
The Vols (7-5) scored the 72-68 win over the Bucs (9-3) before a sold-out, hostile crowd at Freedom Hall, and they did it with the key staples of defense and rebounding.
Junior guard Detrick Mostella had 25 points, including a pair of clutch free throws and a back-breaking jumper in the final 1 1/2 minutes, but he cited the team’s defense and effort as keys to the win.
“We all knew what we needed to come and do tonight, and that was play defense and play hard,” Mostella said. “I feel like my role playing defense was pretty big, guarding (T.J.) Cromer. I feel like that helped out a lot.”
Indeed, Mostella’s defense didn’t show up in the game highlights, but holding ETSU’s leading scorer to 14 points on 4-of-13 shooting with 3 turnovers was key.
Tennessee freshman post Grant Williams scored only 6 points, but he came up big with 9 rebounds and 4 blocked shots — including 3 blocks in the final five minutes of the game.
“We really just did a better job of rotating and had each other’s backs,” Williams said. “If I went to block a shot, someone else would come down and crack my guy. We just did a better job guarding the ball those last couple minutes, I think.”
ETSU coach Steve Forbes said the Vols’ athleticism and effort was indeed the difference.
“Their physicality really got to us, on the offensive glass particularly,” Forbes said. “We gave up 17 offensive rebounds, and if it’s 10 or 12, we probably win the game.”
The Vols will return to practice on Monday with hopes point guard Jordan Bone will be back on the floor getting work leading up to next Thursday’s SEC opener at Texas A&M (8-3).
Tennessee freshman forward John Fulkerson underwent surgery on the right elbow he injured in the Dec. 15 win over Lipscomb, according to a 247Sports report.