Staff photo by Allison Kwesell/Chattanooga Times Free Press - UTC's Jasper Williams drives the ball past Furman's Darryl Evans in the first half at McKenzie Arena.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga fell to Furman 87-78 in Southern Conference basketball Saturday in McKenzie Arena. That extended the Mocs' losing streak to four games for the second time this season.
In two home games this week, UTC (13-14, 5-9) was embarrassed 78-54 by North Division cellar-dweller Samford and outhustled by the Paladins (12-13, 6-8), who were next-to-last in the South Division.
"We were much better than we were against Samford," point guard Keegan Bell said. "We played hard; we scrapped hard. I wouldn't say our defense was bad at all. Where we messed up is rebounding. We did better tonight, but we didn't come up with the victory.
"We played a lot better than we did against Samford."
Furman guard Jordan Miller set a career high with 31 points on 10-of-18 shooting. Amu Saaka, a transfer from South Florida, added 19 points and seven rebounds before fouling out.
DeAntre Jefferson led the Mocs with 15 points off the bench. Bell and Ricky Taylor each had 14 points, and senior Ty Patterson added 12.
"I would be thrilled if we played with that effort the rest of the season," UTC coach John Shulman said. "We can't control if Miller makes prayers. It's demoralizing. But I think our kids kept on battling."
The Paladins had been averaging 60.2 points in their last six games and scored more than 65 just once in that stretch. They set their season high Saturday.
Furman shot 53.7 percent from the field, including 9-of-20 from the 3-point line. UTC shot 45.9 percent from the floor and just 16-of-28 from the free-throw line.
The Mocs built a 23-15 lead on a layup by Patterson with 4:44 to go in the first half. Then Furman caught fire and closed the half on a 17-4 run to own a 32-27 lead at halftime.
Patterson had 10 points before the break and Taylor had nine. But the Mocs shot only 35.7 percent in the first half and were outrebounded 32-27 in the first 20 minutes before a crowd of 3,693.
The Mocs used a variety of defenses trying to find the best against Furman's dribble-drive system. The Paladins scored on seven straight possessions but were unable to pull away as the Mocs scored on six of seven trips during the same span. Furman led 56-47 and 12 minutes to play.
Bell was called for his fourth foul with 11:09 to go, Shulman earned a technical foul and Furman went on a 12-4 run -- capped by a 3-pointer from Justin Dehm -- and led 67-51 with 10 minutes to play.
The Mocs tried a full-court press to create turnovers and more possessions. Desperate times called for a desperate defense, one they've rarely used this season.
The absence of Ridge McKeither and Josh Odem -- who were suspended indefinitely before Wednesday's game for a violation of team rules -- impacted a rotation that seemingly has become set.
Walk-on Dontay Hampton played seven minutes because Jasper Williams had to play shooting guard, and Jeff Smith played 13 minutes at power forward with McKeither wearing a black dress shirt and designer jeans.
UTC pulled within 70-58 with 7:40 to play and 75-68 with 4:14 to go, but Furman collected a four-point possession when Miller hit a bucket, was fouled in the process and missed the free throw ahead of a Neil Duval putback.
"After what this week has been like, I'm proud of them," Shulman said of the Mocs. "I'm not going to throw them under the bus. They're my guys."
David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...