Tennessee went on the road against a tough SoCon team in ETSU (9-3) on Thursday evening in the Vols’ final game before SEC play starts up after Christmas.
The Vols (7-5) had a back-and-forth affair against the program located about 90 miles to the northeast of Knoxville, but ultimately were able to prevail in a 72-68 victory over the Buccaneers.
Here are a few quick takeaways from the win:
Mostella comes up huge: There’s no question who the MVP in this game was. Junior guard Detrick Mostella played maybe the best game of his career, scoring a career-high 25 points and grabbing seven rebounds. He had the best +/- on the team as well with the Vols going +11 with him on the floor against the Bucs.
He scored 12 of UT’s final 21 points on the evening, including a pair of of free throws with 1:11 remaining, and a jumper with :29 remaining to put the Vols up four. He finished the evening 8-of-15 from the field, 3-of-7 from 3-point territory and a perfect 6-of-6 from the free-throw line.
Mostella, who scored 17 against ETSU in Knoxville last season, is now averaging 17.6 points per game in his last three contests after scoring an average of just 1.7 in the previous three games.
While Mostella was the MVP, give an honorable mention to freshman Grant Williams as well. He didn’t put up a huge scoring line, but he did a lot of the dirty work with nine rebounds and four blocks.
Slow starts: While both teams heated up in the second half, that didn’t completely make up for one of the slowest starts of the season for both sides. The level of play was atrocious in the opening minutes. The teams were tied at 14 with 3:53 left in the first half. ETSU shot just 25% percent in the opening half.
The Vols weren’t too far ahead until they hit a hot streak late in the first half – scoring 18 points in the final four minutes of the first half to take a 32-23 edge into the break.
Both teams found their rhythm a bit more in the final 20 minutes. ETSU hit 50% of its shots in the second half with UT knocking down 42.9%. That led to an eventful, back-and-forth finish before UT pulled away in the closing minutes.
Big win: On the surface, a win over a SoCon team shouldn’t stand as a huge accomplishment for this Tennessee program. But, make no mistake, this was a quality ETSU squad that will be in contention for a tournament big in March. And this was a game circled on the calendar for the Bucs. It’s not often that a major program travels to the mid-major one. That’s what happened here, and in front of a hyped-up team and crowd, Tennessee was able to come up with the victory.
It’s just the second true road win for the Vols under Barnes, and a nice confidence booster as they get set to open SEC play on Dec. 29 at Texas A&M.
Final stats: pic.twitter.com/eXYCWd5Ktt
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) December 23, 2016