Bruce Pearl on the win over Missouri State
The point guard of the past, Bobby Maze, was sitting courtside. In street clothes, of course.
The point guard of the present, Melvin Goins, also was in street clothes, resigned to the end of the bench by a painful bruise in his side from the night before.
That left Tennessee's New York plans hanging on the point guard of the future Wednesday night.
Trae Golden came to UT to learn to be a point guard and there he was in his third collegiate game thrown in the fire.
With a big assist from sophomore Skylar McBee, Golden brought the ship into port - in this case the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off.
"He wasn't the player of the year in Georgia for nothing,'' said teammate Cam Tatum.
Minus their senior floor leader against tough Missouri State, the Vols refused to be detoured from their agenda of spending Thanksgiving in New York.
This developing team may not be ready to play Broadway yet, but the Vols will give it a shot next week at the corner of 33rd Street and Eighth Avenue.
"It'll be an honor to play at Madison Square Garden,'' said Golden. "That's the mecca of basketball.''
First, though, the Vols had to get through 40 tense minutes in Thompson-Boling Arena.
Goins was no-go after aggravating an injury in his side Tuesday in the second half of a win over Belmont. Golden had a hand in closing out that one, too.
This isn't coach Bruce Pearl's first rodeo. He realized he couldn't go into a season with one point guard. Thus Golden and McBee, both off-guards by trade, spent much of their summer working on ball-handling and other point-guard skills.
"That was what Coach Pearl recruited me for,'' said Golden, "point guard. That's what I worked on all summer.''
McBee came to UT as a spot-up shooter. But he and Pearl agreed he should broaden his horizons and learn both guard spots. He worked at point both at home and on a summer tour in China.
"I brought it up a little bit in high school,'' McBee said, "but not much.
"I'm going to do whatever I can do to help this team win.''
Golden had all day to think about his first start. What was going through his 19-year-old head?
"Make sure I lead the team, handle the rock and make sure I make good decisions to put everybody in positions to score.''
Pretty sound checklist. Most of the night he would be going toe to toe with Missouri State senior Nafis Ricks.
"All the guys backed me up,'' Golden said. "I credit it to them.
"And every day in practice me and Melvin guard each other. So the guy pressing up on me, he's just like Melvin.''
On a night when points were hard to come by, Golden connected for two nice baskets in the first half. He made clutch free throws in the final minute.
He got through 28 minutes with only one turnover and had two assists and two steals.
McBee divided his 23 minutes between the point and off-guard. His turnover column was spotless.
"With a player like Melvin out, everybody's got to do a little big more than they did before,'' McBee said, "and I think we did that.''
It wasn't pretty and it wasn't easy. Missouri State will be one of the better teams in a good league, the Missouri Valley Conference.
"Trae and Skylar did a terrific job,'' Pearl said. "If we did not win the game, that would not be an excuse. Trae came here to play point guard.''
He got his wish, maybe a little quicker than he anticipated. It didn't take long to figure out this wasn't McEachern High School any more.
"It's a huge adjustment,'' Golden said, "whether you can look at us and tell it or not.''
"I was a better player just from (Tuesday) night. We're just learning every day.''
There's still a lot to learn. And Goins will likely be back in the starting lineup Wednesday when UT faces Virginia Commonwealth.
But the Vols will feel better about the guys backing him up.