UT coach Cuonzo Martin discusses the Vols' 66-63 win over ETSU
Trae Golden's slump was nearing rock bottom as Tennessee's chances of beating East Tennessee State on Friday night were slipping away.
Adam Sollazzo, the 6-foot-6 nightmare matchup at point guard, had just hit a shot to put ETSU up by eight points with 5:36 remaining.
That's when UT's sophomore point guard, who was 6-of-25 shooting over his past four games, finally found the Golden touch again.
Golden scored nine of his 11 points over the final 5 ½ minutes, sparking an 11-0 run that led to Tennessee (5-6) holding off ETSU 66-63 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
"Coach (Cuonzo) Martin had pulled me aside during a timeout and told me to step it up,'' said Golden, who was 1-of-5 shooting from the floor prior to the furious rally. "He told me he needed it out of me. I just tried to do what I could do to make plays.''
Martin said he realized his young point guard was battling through a tough time, and he's looking for him to stay hot when UT returns to action at 7 p.m. Thursday when The Citadel (2-9) travels to Knoxville.
"Trae stepped up big, and that will be big for him; I think he was pressing,'' Martin said. "His shot wasn't falling, and he stepped up and made some big free throws and made some big plays.
"I think any guy needs that, any time you are shooting the ball, you need to play with confidence.''
Golden, who hit both ends of a one-and-one free-throw situation with 7.9 seconds left to help preserve the win, said he was trying not to let the slump affect him.
"I tried not to lose my confidence, I couldn't lose my confidence,'' said Golden, who broke his nose in practice on Dec. 16. "If I'm not believing in myself, who will?''
Golden still leads the team in scoring at 13.3 points per game. However, he's shooting 40 percent from the floor (46 of 113) and 33 percent from 3-point range (17 of 51).
UT senior Cameron Tatum said he never lost trust.
"I never get worried about Trae in those situations,'' said Tatum, who led the Vols with 13 points. "He's a competitor, and he knows what to do to win.''
Golden said it's a matter of continuing to battle through adversity while learning how better to lead the team.
"It's a long season, and there's going to be ups and downs in every season,'' Golden said. "It was good just to get the flow going again.''
Hall Steps Up: The first person Martin singled out for praise was UT starting center Kenny Hall, who, like Golden, has had his share of ups and downs this season.
Hall came through for the Vols in the second half against ETSU with eight points and five rebounds in the second half of the come-from-behind victory.
"It was very important to get this win, and I wish we could have won a lot more of these close games earlier,'' said Hall, referring to the Vols' 2-6 record in games decided by 10 points or less. "It wasn't a cakewalk — that was tough.
"But we just buckled down and played hard. We're just getting used to playing with each other, and our chemistry is a lot better.''
McBee On Stokes: Perhaps no UT player can understand the significance of the Vols signing the state's No. 1 prospect better than junior Skylar McBee, who grew up following the UT basketball program closely.
"Oh yeah, this is real big,'' McBee said, asked about the importance of the Vols getting their first signee out of Memphis since Dane Bradshaw in November of 2002. "He's going to come in here and bring a big, strong presence down low. He's a good guy who just wants to come in and be a part of our team, and that's the kind of guy we need.
"I think the key is he sees coach Martin wants the best for him, and he'll develop him into the kind of player he wants to be.''
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32