KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (Dec. 2, 2009) - Facing the nation's No. 11-ranked Tennessee Volunteers, the ETSU men's basketball team found itself within striking distance late, but was unable to make a run when it was needed and dropped a 78-66 contest Wednesday night inside Thompson-Boling Arena.
Junior guard Justin Tubbs (Trussville) posted a game-high 22 points, and the Bucs also got double-digit scoring from junior forward Tommy Hubbard (Boston) with 11 and freshman point guard Sheldon Cooley (Tampa) with 10, but despite those efforts ETSU could do no more than give the Vols a significant scare.
"We just played a Top 10 team on their home floor, and what I saw was our team really scrap and battle," said ETSU head coach Murry Bartow, whose team dropped to 4-4 on the season. "We were right there, but just didn't make enough plays late. We were within six late and had some breakdowns in our free throw block outs. If we do better there we have a good chance to make a run and win."
Against a team that prides itself on forcing turnovers, the Bucs only turned it over 13 times and shot well both from the floor (44 percent) and free throw line (85 percent). ETSU also held its own in the paint, being out-rebounded only by two at 34-32.
Tennessee came out on fire in the first half, shooting 75 percent from the floor over the first 10 minutes of play and building a lead of as many as 14 points at 26-12 with 9:39 left before the intermission. However, from there ETSU did not fold, outscoring the Vols 19-10 the rest of the way to finish the half just five back at 36-31.
In the first 20 minutes, the Bucs held their own in most every statistical category, but UT dominated in the paint by outscoring ETSU 24-10 under the basket. ETSU stayed close thanks to a 75 percent clip at the foul line, where they were 6-of-8 and shot well above their season average of 60 percent.
In the second half, the Bucs cut the Tennessee lead to three at 42-39 with 15:36 thanks to a layup by Tubbs. ETSU stayed within striking distance most of the way in the second half and trailed just 64-58 with 4:37 left, but an 8-3 spurt by UT ended with a three-point play by Tyler Smith that made it 72-61 with 1:25 left. From there the Bucs got the game within single digits a couple times but were unable to turn the tide.
Tennessee got a team-high 15 points from Smith, while Scotty Hopson added 10.
ETSU moves on to face UAB on Friday night in Birmingham. Game time in Alabama is set for 8 p.m. For more on ETSU basketball, visit ETSUBucs.com and click on the men's basketball link.