KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee's Detrick Mostella delivered on teammate Kevin Punter's request.
With Tennessee and East Tennessee State tied 67-all as Tuesday's game headed into the final minute, Punter passed to an open Mostella and asked him to ''please'' make the shot. Mostella responded by sinking a corner 3-pointer that put the Volunteers ahead for good with 1:01 remaining in a 76-67 victory.
''As soon as it left his hands, he said, `Please!' '' Mostella said. ''I just shot the ball, and it went in. He came to me after they called timeout and said, `Thank you.' ''
The Vols, who scored the game's final nine points, had plenty of reasons to thank Mostella.
Mostella matched a career high with 17 points as Tennessee (6-5) outlasted ETSU (5-6) in a game that featured eight ties and 10 lead changes, all in the second half. Mostella's only other 17-point performance came in his Tennessee debut last season.
Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said he spoke to Mostella after a Dec. 12 loss at Butler and told the sophomore guard he was at a crossroads and potentially entering ''a defining moment in your career.'' Barnes said Mostella hasn't had a bad practice since.
''His whole mindset in practice is what's helped him come out and play the way he's playing,'' Barnes said.
This game marked the return of ETSU coach Steve Forbes to Knoxville. Forbes was an assistant at Tennessee on Bruce Pearl's staff from 2006-11 and helped the Volunteers reach the NCAA Tournament in each of his five seasons on the job. He said it was a ''great feeling'' to return to Thompson-Boling Arena ''and know that you were part of something special.''
Forbes received a one-year show cause penalty in 2011 as part of the NCAA investigation that led to Pearl's dismissal from Tennessee, then spent two years as head coach at Northwest Florida State and two years as an assistant at Wichita State before taking over ETSU's program this season.
''This wasn't personal,'' Forbes said. ''It's been too long. This is my third job since I was here. I just don't live my life in the rear-view mirror. I just don't. It just hurts because we had a chance to win the game. I know it hurts our fans and our players because it's an important game for them.''
Ge'Lawn Guyn scored 22 points and A.J. Merriweather added 11 for ETSU, which erased a 12-point deficit and led with less than three minutes left.
But after Mostella hit his 3-pointer to put Tennessee ahead for good, the Bucs couldn't respond. On ETSU's next possession, Guyn lost control of the ball at midcourt, allowing Devon Baulkman to make a steal and find Punter for a dunk that gave the Vols a five-point advantage.
The Bucs wouldn't score again as Tennessee closed the game on a 15-2 run.
ETSU: Forbes wasn't the only ETSU coach with Tennessee ties. Assistant coach Jason Shay was a Tennessee assistant from 2005-11. Assistant coach Brooks Savage was a Tennessee student manager who later worked as a graduate assistant for the Vols from 2009-10.
Tennessee: Kyle Alexander, a 6-foot-9 freshman forward, made his first career start Tuesday as senior forward Derek Reese moved to the bench. Alexander had five points, three blocks and two rebounds in 16 minutes.
Punter's 13-point performance ended a string of seven straight games in which he had scored 20-plus points. The last Tennessee player to put together that kind of streak was Ron Slay, who scored at least 20 points in eight straight games in February 2003.
Mostella's 3-pointer was the only 3-point shot Tennessee made out of six attempts in the second half. The Vols had gone 5 of 12 from beyond the arc in the first half. .... ETSU missed eight of its last nine shots. ... Guyn scored ETSU's first 11 points, all in the game's opening 4 1/2 minutes. ... Tennessee's Armani Moore had 14 points and 12 rebounds for his second double-double of the season.
ETSU: Hosts Morehead State on Dec. 30.
Tennessee: Hosts Tennessee State on Dec. 29.