KNOXVILLE — The play was designed for Kevin Punter, but Tennessee's top scorer was in the giving mood.
And Detrick Mostella rewarded his generosity.
The mercurial sophomore sank the go-ahead 3-point basket from the corner in front of Tennessee's bench with 58.3 seconds left as the Volunteers finished on a 15-2 run and scored the final nine points in a 76-67 comeback win Tuesday night against East Tennessee State in Thompson-Boling Arena.
"That was a really good win for us, the way we won," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. "We won a game where we were down, a close game. I've told the guys all year we're going to be down, we're going to be in close games and when it gets down to winning time, that's where we'll find out what we're made of."
Four of Tennessee's five losses this season were by a combined 20 points, so winning a close game was a welcome sight.
Mostella's second solid game in a row is likewise a positive for the Vols (6-5). After scoring 13 points at Gonzaga on Saturday, he matched the career high he set in his debut against VCU in last season's opener with 17 points.facebook
None were bigger than the shot from the corner that allowed Tennessee to emerge victorious from a second half featuring eight ties and 10 lead changes.
"It really was a driving play for K.P.," Mostella said. "He comes to the top, gets a screen and drives to the basket. But we knew they were going to switch everything and try to help everywhere. I felt like and K.P. felt like I was the one that could take that shot.
"I was in the corner waiting on it. He came off the screen and my man helped out too far. I felt like this was my time, so I shot the shot."
After trailing by a dozen in the first half, the Bucs (5-6), who last beat the Vols in 1991, were the aggressors in the second half and led 65-61 with 4:35 left.
But Tennessee's rally spoiled the return of first-year ETSU coach Steve Forbes and top assistant Jason Shay, two former Tennessee assistant coaches under the popular Bruce Pearl.
"It was really nice to see a lot of familiar faces and be in an arena that we helped build," Forbes said.
"Let's be frank: When we came here (in 2005), there were no luxury boxes. There was no Jumbotron. There was no ribbon board. There was no Pratt Pavilion. That was a parking lot where I used to park.
"It's a good feeling to come back and know that you were part of something special."
Mostella helped pick up the scoring slack for Punter as the SEC's second-leading scorer ended his seven-game streak of 20-point games — the longest by a Vol since Ron Slay in 2003.
Punter picked up his third foul less than two minutes into the second half and sat for a long stretch as ETSU opened the half on a 14-4 run to take the lead, but Mostella made a runner and converted a three-point play during a second half in which Tennessee shot 5-of-24 before its flourishing finish.
"In the past, he's been known to be a little bit streaky," Armani Moore, who had 14 points and 12 rebounds, said of Mostella. "It goes back to the summer. I could just tell that his approach was going to change this year.
"He's normally been the guy that didn't really want to accept coaching, but I think Coach Barnes is really a guy who shows you that if you don't want to be a part of it, then I'm not going to let you be a part of it. But Detrick came in with the mindset this summer that he was really ready to buy in, and he's gotten better."
After Mostella played just three minutes and registered his fourth scoreless game of the season against Butler on Dec. 12, Barnes told him he was at a "crossroads" in his young career.
Mostella "hasn't had a bad practice" since, Barnes added.
"Everything's starting to pay off now," Mostella said. "I feel like I didn't take advantage of everything that was going on in my situation. I had to just go back to it and see what I was doing wrong, and I feel like I was doing a lot stuff wrong. I feel like that really helped me and gave me more confidence on the defensive end and the offensive end.
"That really just got me on the floor more, and I'm just taking advantage of every opportunity I get."
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.