MACON, Ga. — Two seniors spoke up and spoke out.
Co-captain Keegan Bell and leading scorer Omar Wattad owned the postgame speech after the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga lost 67-56 at Mercer on Saturday night.
“I think that we kind of got after the team a bit, but we needed it,” Bell said. “We’re not doing it any negative way or pointing fingers, it’s just that we’re trying to light a fire under this team.”
Bell and Wattad questioned the heart, passion and enthusiasm of their teammates as a group without pointing fingers directly at teammates.
“We have a load of great human beings and talented players, but not everybody plays that hard,” Wattad said Saturday, after leading UTC with 20 points. “I know enough players have heart, but you have to play with it and bring it. They, and I mean we, there’s a glazed look on people’s faces and it can’t be there.”
UTC led the Bears 17-4 less than six minutes into the game. The Mocs owned a 30-29 lead at halftime. Then they went nearly eight minutes without a point to open the second half resulting in a 15-point deficit which eventually swelled to 17 points.
“When you get punched in the face, you want to punch back and not have that glazed look of, ‘What do we do now?’” Wattad said Sunday before practice in McKenzie Arena.
“If you’re not going to do that, then there’s no point in playing basketball,” he added. “If you have it within yourself, you can fight. It’s like anything in life, you take pride in it. I believe in everybody on this team. We have to fight harder.”
The Mocs (2-7, 0-2 SoCon) have shown that they can put up a fight. They did so in a 57-46 loss at Butler which was a four-point game with five minutes to play. And they did so last Saturday in an 87-85 double-overtime loss at the College of Charleston. But that’s only two of nine games.
“Every person on the team needs to find that passion and love of the game that they’ve come here with,” Bell said. “Some people have to find that within themselves, and enjoy the game, and enjoy competing and playing, and not getting so down on themselves or come out with low energy.”
Bell had eight assists against the Bears (7-3) and is No. 8 in the country with an average of 7.0 assists per game.
“We try to stay away from singling out guys and pointing at someone, we just said everyone needs to pick it up,” Bell said. “Everybody needs to get better. Not playing with heart has been the thing that frustrates me.”
Coach John Shulman doesn’t have a problem with his seniors speaking so loud and so strong.
“If you’re a senior and you’ve been through the wars, you have the right to speak up,” Shulman said on Saturday. “I think it means more coming from Omar than me. The player-coach relationship is different than player-to-player.
“When you have a player say something to you, it gets your attention.”
UTC will next play Tuesday at home against Spalding University which is coached by former Moc Kevin Gray.
“Keegan and Omar have been through the wars, and if they want to call somebody out, I think it means more if they do it,” Shulman said. “But they can’t call anybody out if they’re not doing it either.”
Shulman missed practice on Sunday due to a previously scheduled visit with a sick friend — a personal matter that puts basketball in perspective of life.
“We have nice guys, but at some point at time, you may have to jerk somebody up by the dadgum jersey and say, ‘Wake up, I gotta have you,’” Shulman said. “That stuff can bring teams together. I think they’re trying to say, ‘We need everybody on the same page right now. Come join us.’”
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 ...