Everything pointed in favor of Appalachian State almost all night.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga played without leading scorer Omar Wattad, who had a back strain. Ricky Taylor had his wrist taped and couldn't shoot. Point guard Keegan Bell couldn't buy a basket.
And the visiting Mountaineers led by 12 points in the second half and had control over the Mocs.
The visitors should have won. They didn't.
UTC junior guard Dontay Hampton grabbed a loose rebound, scooted down 90 feet and laid in the game-winning shot with 0.8 second to go in UTC's 65-63 win.
Then Hampton, as he said, became scared as teammates -- including former Ole Miss tight end Zaccheus Mason -- ran toward him in a mobbing embrace.
"I'm like, 'Please don't tackle me,'" said Hampton, who played a season-high 23 minutes.
The final seconds played out with ASU owning an advantage. Preseason SoCon player of the year Omar Carter had the ball on the perimeter eating seconds off the clock to get the final shot. The 6-foot-5, 242-pound Mason had him one-on-one. Carter took one dribble to the basket and pulled up for a 3-pointer.
"I thought it was a huge advantage," ASU coach Jason Capel said. "Omar shouldn't have settled. That's not what we talked about."
The ball caromed to Hampton, who took it the rest of the way.
"I looked up and nobody was in front of me," Hampton said. "I pushed it. Nobody stopped me. I saw [Bell] out of the corner of my eye, but a defender came and I went the other way. I was thinking about trying to get fouled. That's why I went in for the floater."
It went in.
A season-high crowd of 3,245 recorded a season high on the decibel meter as the Mocs mobbed Hampton in front of the student section and pep band.
"I stopped breathing for a second," said senior Jahmal Burroughs, who recorded a career-high 11 points and eight rebounds. "It was just an amazing thing.
"Then I'm the guy in the middle holding him up because everybody was trying to trample him. That was a lot of weight on him."
Hampton hit the game-winner. Taylor scored 19 points, Drazen Zlovaric scored 11 and grabbed seven rebounds. Mason had seven points and six rebounds.
"We've had some stolen from us," UTC coach John Shulman said. "Did we steal one tonight? Ain't no doubt."
Freshman Tab Hamilton led ASU (6-8, 2-2) with 22 points, including 6-of-11 success from the 3-point line. Carter scored 19 points on 20 shots -- including the critical miss.
"I thought we did a lot of really good things to put us in position to win," Capel said. "We have to finish the game. They made the plays because of our breakdowns."
ASU led 34-33 after a nip-and-tuck first half with neither team leading by more than four points. But the Mountaineers went on a 13-3 run to grab a 50-42 lead with 13:17 to go. They led by 10 with eight minutes to go.
UTC (8-9, 2-2) slowly pulled within three points by getting eight consecutive defensive stops. Then Bell, who started the game 0-for-11 from the floor and 0-for-9 from the arc, buried one from the left wing to get UTC within 63-61. After another stop, Mason headed to the free-throw line, where he hit both shots to tie the game with 37.6 ticks to tock, setting up Carter's ill-fated attempt.
"The best thing we could do is hope for overtime," Shulman said. "Z did a great job, stayed down on Carter. I was going to call time out, but there's not a better play than scoring in transition when the other team doesn't want to foul and aren't set up."
Just ask Hampton.
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 ...