With the Volunteers trying to set up a tying or go-ahead shot, Bost and Golden squared off near midcourt at 11 ticks of the clock. The play never got started. Bost was right in Golden’s face as the Tennessee guard made a move and…
“I guess he just lost it,” said Bost. “But I tried to put as much pressure on him as I could. I knew they were going to him and he was going to try to make the shot.” Instead on Golden’s stumble Bost scooped the fumble and sailed away to beat the buzzer. And the Volunteers, who fell to 8-8 and 1-1 SEC.
For the Bulldogs (14-3, 1-1 SEC) the close call was still a happy ending to their homecourt conference opener. In fact the home court really was a factor in the final with the not-entirely-forced turnover. State wasn’t complaining.
Least of all Bost, who did not have an efficient evening on the whole. His shooting slump continued with a 3-of-11 line, he had more turnovers himself (6) than assists (5), and only played 29 minutes after two fast early fouls. Yet with the visiting Vols aiming for an upset it was none other than Bost making two of the game’s crucial plays. His only three-pointer was timed perfectly, coming at 3:13 after Tennessee had drawn within three points.
“Dee is going to give you some good,” Coach Rick Stansbury said. “He’s struggled offensively but you can never fault his effort. And he made a huge play at the end of the game.” A play that officially counted as a steal, his fourth.
Considering how his evening began, the finish eased lots of issues said Bost. “It took a lot of pressure off me at the end. I guess I got something out of me!” Bost tied for the team scoring lead with 13 points, same as the frontcourt pair of Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney. The two big Dogs had to labor long against Tennessee’s baseline bruisers, all the more because the SEC officiating crew was stingy with whistles.
Which didn’t bother anyone at all. “That’s the game we like,” said Moultrie. “They let us play and it wasn’t too many fouls called.” Not on him anyway, with a single personal assessed in 35 minutes. Sidney worked just 20 minutes with four fouls but led everyone with seven rebounds.
The end was the lone blot on Golden’s game, as he paced all scorers with 20 points and hit four treys, only one less than State’s team. Big forward Jeronne Maymon added 13 points and forward Kenny Hall came off the bench for 12.
“Hall and Maymon are loads,” said Stansbury. “And Golden has played exceptionally well for them.” Still he was pleased how Moultrie, Sidney, and sub-center Wendell Lewis answered in kind, or better. “Arnett is going to fight you, and Shug (Sidney) has a big old body, so we had a big body to put against their bodies.”
Maymon scored his team’s first three buckets in fact, which State offset with consecutive threeballs to begin. From then on long shots weren’t falling for the Dogs but they did well enough closer to the goal. Even sitting Bost after the second foul was not a serious setback. Brian Bryant attacked the lane for short scores as Deville Smith ran the point until Bost returned at 6:41…as an off-guard now. Smith lobbed to Moultrie for a dunk and forward Rodney Hood hit a three that sparked State to a 36-27 halftime lead.
“I thought the first half we were efficient offensively,” Stansbury said. “DeVille came in and added a lot.”
Sidney went down 80 seconds into the new half holding his ankle but the Vols didn’t play the big man’s absence well, hoisting a hurried three that missed. Jalen Steele made it sting by hitting for three himself, and a couple of Moultrie dunks kept a nine-point cushion. Sidney returned as well and scored a quick bucket. Even diving out of bounds Bost was able to flip the ball in to Moultrie for a layup.
Still the Vols weren’t done. “Give Tennessee a lot of credit,” Stansbury said. “We got them down nine, ten and they kept their poise and fought back.” Golden nailed a couple of treys before his third foul and even with him sitting his team crept within 51-47. And hit a wall, or rather the wall hit back in the form of blocks by Moultrie and Lewis. That included consecutive fastbreaks that were swatted almost off the hand(s).
“We really needed Wendell and he showed up at the right time,” said Moultrie. “We knew coming in Tennessee is always physical so we were prepared.”
Bost’s big bucket came when Golden backed away just far enough for the open trey. He did force a couple more misses but the Vols couldn’t take enough advantage despite the Dogs sitting on 60 points from 1:14 to the concluding dunk.
‘That was a well-played game by both teams,” UT Coach Cuonzo Martin said. “I thought Trae had a really good game, he did a solid job defending. And Jeronne and Kenny went toe-to-toe with their bigs.” But it was the slip of a toe, or something, that denied the visitors a last shot at the upset; and spared the 7,588 mostly-home fans the trauma.
“He tried to go between his legs, and just slipped,” Martin shrugged. The irony of course was how the hot Vol guard stumbled in the crunch, while a frustrated Bulldog quarterback made just two big chances pay off so dramatically. “Give Dee a lot of credit, that’s a point guard stepping up and making plays when it counted,” Martin said.
“It’s been frustrating for me,” said Bost of his recent offensive struggles. “But I’ll take that and carry it over to the next game.”
That being a 3:01 Saturday meeting with Alabama, the SEC squad State expects to battle all season for top spot in the Western Division. The Crimson Tide is 13-3 and 2-0 SEC after beating LSU on Wednesday, giving them an extra day’s preparation time. The Bulldogs have a shorter turnaround, but Moultrie does not see any problems.
“We’re just going to rest and get ready for 3:00 showdown.”