BY TREY WILLIAMS
Gary Scheuerman remembers all too well the last time Tennessee’s basketball team played East Tennessee State in Johnson City.
He missed a last-second shot from the corner to seal East Tennessee State’s 48-47 loss to Ray Mears’ Volunteers in Memorial (Brooks) Gym on Dec. 9, 1963.
“When they came to our place we should’ve won,” Scheuerman said. “The wrong guy shot at the end, and you’re talking to him. They drew a play up for Houston Frazier and it ended up to me in the corner and the clock was running out and I had no choice. I shot it and it just barely hit the rim. …
“Shoot, they were pulling Houston’s jersey. (Official) Ralph Stout said, ‘I was screened.’”
A.W. Davis scored Tennessee’s final 14 points to help set the stage for Scheuerman.
“I could’ve been a hero forever and ever,” Scheuerman said.
He got a shot of redemption the following season while coaching ETSU’s freshman team for Madison Brooks. His team included Harley “Skeeter” Swift and George Pitts, who helped the “Baby Bucs” upset Tennessee in Stokely Athletic Center. A.W. Davis was coaching the Vols freshmen, a touted class that helped Mears win an SEC title the following season.
“At that time I think they had three or four high school All-Americans with Billy Justus, Billy Hann and (Bill) Young,” Scheuerman said. “In the dressing room that night it was like we’d won the World Series.”
Swift scored a game-high 26 points and talked trash the whole game.
“Skeeter put on a show,” said Scheuerman, who stepped down at season’s end thanks, in part, to the high-strung Swift. “All I did was clear out for one guard and let Skeeter come across the top like they do now days, and Skeeter would either take it to the hole or stop and shoot that jumper right there. And Skeeter went out of his tree. …
“George was probably the most hard-nosed kid that I had on the freshman team. He was strictly a team player and he was one I would put on the best player. … Tennessee (the freshman team) came to Johnson City and beat us like a drum later that year.”
But the varsity Vols haven’t been back since Scheuerman’s last-second miss.
“Ray Mears said he wasn’t coming back to Johnson City, and he didn’t,” Scheuerman said. “I don’t think he ever wanted to come to Johnson City to be honest with you, but when he took that program over they weren’t very strong.”
Mears tried to get Swift to transfer to Tennessee. In fact, Swift still eats lunch on occasion with Mears’ son Steve.
“I loved Coach Mears and the food they served when I visited,” said Swift, who concluded a five-year ABA career with the San Antonio Spurs after a knee injury. “But I didn’t love the offense he was running with all of those picks and passes.”
ETSU’s first win against Tennessee came in December of ’89. The Bucs were coming off the first of four straight NCAA Tournament berths, and Keith “Mister” Jennings, Greg Dennis, Calvin Talford, Alvin West, Marty Story, Major Geer and Chad Keller fueled a balanced attack that beat the Vols, 83-70. It was Tennessee’s first season with Wade Houston coaching and Allan Houston playing.
Les Robinson’s Bucs were an impressive blend of athleticism, size, shooting, smarts and unselfishness, and the 5-foot-7 Jennings ran a team better than any Bucs point guard before or since.
He concluded the victory at UT with a double-clutch reverse lay-in that would’ve had everyone from Pistol Pete to Dr. J smiling.
“We had the game in hand and I was just gonna try to run some clock off,” Jennings said, “but I beat a guy on the sideline and then hit the baseline, and when I hit the baseline I figured it was gonna be a layup. So I went to lay it in and I knew Allan Houston was gonna come to try and block it and I went up under him and laid it in on the other side. And the crowd went kind of crazy. That was like the final touches of that nice so-called upset.”
It punctuated a five-minute homestretch that included dunks from Talford and Dennis. Talford slammed home a 30-foot alley-oop pass from Jennings immediately after reentering the game following a long rest with four fouls.
The crowd noise throughout the game seemed to favor the visiting Bucs. It was loud during their high-flying finish.
“The thing I remember the most about that game is our following,” Jennings said. “We had a good crowd to follow us to that game and they set them way up in Thompson-Boling in, like, the top rows. So just to hear those fans screaming and cheering for us was something I’ll probably never forget. …
“When we won the tournament as sophomores we became a confident group our junior year. So when we knew we had to play UT it became an opportunity to prove that we were the best team in the state of Tennessee. Everybody knew UT was more of a football school but the basketball team got a lot of love also. So we knew if we could knock them off we’d have to be looked at as the best team in the state. And after that it was good to finally get to play Memphis State and all of them.”
Indeed, ETSU beat Memphis State in overtime the following season when Jennings was a senior, and it beat Tennessee again early in the 1991-92 season after Jennings had departed for the NBA. Jennings’ successor, 5-foot-11 Jason Niblett, scored 33 points to help the Bucs beat the Vols, 87-79.
ETSU still held the two-game wins streak when the programs met again on December 4, 1994. Tennessee had Science Hill products Shane Williams and Damon Johnson as well as former Dobyns-Bennett player Shane Carnes and 7-footer Steve Hamer, who scored 21 points.
Williams played all 40 minutes and scored 15 points. Carnes added 12 points and Johnson had points and a game-high six assists.
ETSU had talent with the likes of Wake Forest transfer Robert Doggett, athletic big man Tony Patterson, Geoff Herman, Corrie Johnson, Justin McClellan, Titus Shelton and Sleepy Floyd’s nephew, Junior.
“Yeah, they were still living off their glory days from Mister and them,” Damon Johnson said. “They were still getting a lot of recruits because they were doing so well. Those teams were still pretty good. They were really good, actually.”
The win was part of a hat trick for Johnson against Herman. Johnson was at Science Hill when they beat Herman’s Chattanooga Tyner for the 1990 state championship and later was on a team in Iceland that beat Herman’s for a championship.
“You could tell he was playing with a chip on his shoulder (in Iceland),” Johnson said.
There were also pickup games at Carver Rec and Old Kiwanis Park during the summer that included ETSU players and the Vols’ Tri-Cities products.
“During the summer we knew we were gonna play each other that season and down at the Rec when we all met there was a lot of trash talking, a lot of going back and forth,” Johnson said. “It was a big game for me and Shane (Williams) and Shane Carnes, because we didn’t want to lose those bragging rights. We didn’t want to have to come back home and hear them running their mouth.”
Williams recalled the abilities of Doggett (23 points, four assists) and Johnson. “ETSU had some talent,” Williams said. “And it was a pretty good rivalry because of Mister and them going down there and beating UT a couple of times before that. UT was trying to get back, trying to get that rivalry in hand.”
ETSU hasn’t beaten Tennessee since Johnson City natives Williams and Johnson helped snap the two-game skid. The Bucs are 2-14 all-time against UT, including a current nine-game losing streak. Among ETSU’s heartbreakers were a 93-88 loss in 2006-07 and a 66-63 setback in 2011-12.
The 93-88 loss came during Bruce Pearl’s first season at Tennessee. ETSU was coming off a nine-day layoff and implemented some defensive twists. It also got 19 points from Courtney Pigram, 17 points and 15 rebounds from Andrew Reed and 17 points and eight assists from Dequan Twilley.
“That’s a very talented team,” a relieved Pearl said after the game. “It shows you why a lot of high-majors won’t play these games. But it’s simply the right thing to do.”
Dane Bradshaw made 3 of 4 from 3-point range that night. He was 17-for-65 (26.2 percent) the rest of the season, which is probably why ETSU coach Murry Bartow looked like he might’ve thrown up in his mouth when Bradshaw made one of those treys at a key moment.
The Vols’ 66-63 win early in the 2011-12 season – UT coach Cuonzo Martin’s first – left both teams with 5-6 records. ETSU’s Adam Sollazzo scored 19 points and missed a potential game-tying trey with two seconds remaining.
Tennessee won 76-67 last season, which was former Vols assistant Steve Forbes’ first as ETSU’s head coach. Many believe Forbes squad will end the Bucs’ skid this year on Dec. 22 in sold-out Freedom Hall. Scheuerman’s inclined to agree.
“From what I saw from Forbes’ bunch,” Scheuerman said, “they look like they could be awfully good. … Of course, Tennessee’s getting better. They almost beat North Carolina. It might be a pretty good game.”
Just like the last time the Vols visited ETSU.