First-year coach Will Wade knew it was traditional for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga to win its tournament, the Dr Pepper Classic, on the Mocs' home floor.
They did just that Monday in McKenzie Arena.
Powered by tournament MVP Zaccheus Mason, with a boost from a finally healthy Ronrico White and a splash from Louisiana-based sophomores Casey Jones and Gee McGhee, UTC defeated Maine 86-80.
UTC has won 16 of the 24 Dr Pepper Classic annual tournaments and five of the last six.
"We pay for the trophies," Wade joked. "I saw that on the line-item. At least if we paid for them, we should keep one. The expectation is that we win it.
"It was good to do that."
Mason earned his trophy by scoring 31 points and grabbing 26 rebounds in two games. That included 15 points and 15 rebounds against the Black Bears, who knocked off Middle Tennessee State in overtime to reach the championship game.
"I've been preaching and harping that we need him on the boards, and that was never more apparent than last night and tonight," Wade said of Mason, who went 19 days between games due to a broken toe.
White, playing in his fifth game back from offseason hip surgery, scored 20 points and went 5-for-5 from the 3-point line. Jones set a career high with 20 points, including three dunks, and McGhee scored 17 points, the first time he reached double figures since Nov. 29 against IUPUI.
"Having everybody on the court is 'Chaos,' finally," Jones said, with a bag of celebratory candy a few feet away. "It meshed perfectly today."
The system UTC employed Monday night -- some full-court press, some zone, some man-to-man and a little box-and-one on defense and a lot of drive-and-dish on offense -- combined with an 11-of-25 showing from the 3-point line for the win.
"We played a little more man than we have lately," Wade said. "I thought the press gave us good energy in the first half. We mixed it up and our guys executed pretty well."
The Black Bears (2-9) controlled the first half and led by 11 points with 6:24 to go before the break. But UTC rallied to within 43-39 at halftime after a last-second 3-pointer by Alex Bran spun out of the rim.
"We were kind of teetering in the first half," Wade said. "But we stayed in the game and stayed in what we were doing. Then we sprinted out of the half and did a really good job."
McGhee and Jones -- who both played on the Louisiana Dynasty AAU team -- combined for a 19-4 run over the first six minutes of the second half. Either McGhee or Jones scored a basket on nine of UTC's first 11 possessions after the break.
"We brought it back to the AAU days," Jones said. "We had a long talk in the locker room without the coaches: We needed this win. We wanted it. Then I saw Gee, he was ready to play. That's my brother and I decided to join him."
That spurt gave UTC a 58-47 lead with 14 minutes to play. But Maine did not fold and reclaimed the lead at 69-68 after Dimitry Coronel, who scored 24 points, sank a 3-pointer.
White responded with back-to-back 3s that gave UTC a little breathing room.
"Rico had an answer every time," Wade said. "He's a gamer and he knows what he's doing. He has a great feel for what's going on out there."
With 38 seconds to play, UTC had to inbound the ball under Maine's basket with a three-point lead. The Mocs couldn't do it and were called for a five-second violation.
Coronel drove from the right side but had his shot tipped away by Mason, who came from the opposite side for his 25th block of the season.
"Down the stretch, we came up with just enough stops to win the game," Wade said. "Some people kind of see this as the kickoff to basketball season. It wasn't perfect, but hopefully we left a good first impression."
He has the championship trophy to show off if necessary.
Contact David Uchiyama at email@example.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.
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 ...
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