KENNESAW, Ga. — The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball team returned on a silent bus from every single road game last season. The Mocs lost all 14 of them.
Zaccheus Mason had plans to play cards and have fun with teammates on the bus following UTC's 65-51 win Saturday at Kennesaw State.
"It's an unwritten rule that you're not supposed to talk on the bus after a loss, and if you do, you whisper," Mason said. "We can actually talk with one another and interact and feel good going back with a victory."
Mason led the Mocs with 14 points and eight rebounds. Gee McGhee added 12 points, while Ronrico White and Drazen Zlovaric each scored 10.
UTC (2-5) went winless on the road last season with a starting lineup including four seniors. The Mocs' last road victory came Feb. 26, 2011, when they won 77-72 in overtime at Samford to claim the Southern Conference North Division crown.
"The freshmen were talking about it. I never brought it up that we had that bad thing on the road," coach John Shulman said. "The freshmen want to write their own book and new chapter, and winning on the road would be a big thing for them.
"It wasn't a thing of beauty, but some wins aren't.
Redshirt sophomore Sam Watson and injured senior Dontay Hampton are the only Mocs on the roster who had experienced a road victory in a UTC uniform before Saturday. The team earned this one by building a large first-half lead in front of a 552-person crowd. Among those were about 50 UTC fans, including retired chancellor Roger Brown.
"Just winning is great, period," White said. "These freshmen got their first Division I win, and I got my first win on the road."
The Mocs' post players scored 24 points in the paint, out-rebounded KSU 43-22 and grabbed 14 offensive rebounds, which resulted in 18 second-chance points. But the UTC guards had their struggles -- especially in the second half when they had 18 turnovers and point guards were stripped against a press.
"I had some silly turnovers that got them going," White said. "I need to do a better job of running this team."
Shulman mixed defenses against KSU and star Markeith Cummings, who had at least one NBA scout -- from the Miami Heat -- in attendance for his team-leading 16-point day. It continued a trend that began Tuesday against Louisiana Tech and continued all 40 minutes against the Owls (1-6).
The Mocs led 21-17 with eight minutes to go in the first half. McGhee started a quick 6-0 spurt that grew to a 15-4 run to close the half.
UTC took a 38-21 lead into halftime -- its largest lead against Division I competition this year. Mason had 12 points before the break and the Mocs had 14 points in the paint after shooting 15-for-21 in the first 20 minutes.
The second began with some chippiness and continued with frequent interruptions instead of a smooth flow. UTC scored five points in the first 10 minutes of the second half and had its lead --which swelled to 20 -- remain largely a comfortable 17 points.
"It was a little stagnant," Mason said. "There were a lot of fouls in the second half."
KSU pressed UTC in the full court and tried to get the ball inside to Cummings in the half-court offense. But Mason played up to the task by fronting Cummings and blocking two post moves.
The Owls whittled UTC's lead to eight points. But only 1:37 remained and UTC closed the game by hitting seven of eight free throws.
"I don't know how often we've been up 17 at the half on the road," Shulman said. "You know it's going to be a bonkers game in the second half. We had enough points that we could keep on with defense and rebound. That was a new experience for us."
So was planning to play cards.
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 ...