Drazen Zlovaric is not starring in the next Hollywood movie that will be filmed in Chattanooga.
But he looked like a villain with a big plastic mask as the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga bullied and bruised a battered Furman basketball team 83-49 in McKenzie Arena on Thursday.
After scoring at least 10 points in each of the Mocs' last four games, Zlovaric took an elbow to his nose in the opening minutes, and that would have seemed to be a big blow for his team's chances.
When he returned late in the first half of the Southern Conference game, he had to look through holes in the hard plastic protecting his face. Then as the UTC reserves pulled away from the Paladins, he and the other starters leaped off the bench in triumph when walk-on Alex Bran hit a 3-pointer in the final minutes.
"At first I was like, 'It's an ugly mask -- lose it,'" freshman Gee McGhee told Zlovaric. "Then he got two buckets and I'm like, 'Keep it.'"
McGhee led the Mocs (11-15, 6-7) with 16 points before an announced crowd of 2,663 on Valentine's Day. Fellow freshman Eric Robertson set a career high with 14 points, and freshman point guard Farad Cobb added 12 points and six assists.
That trio outscored Furman's three starting freshmen -- Kendrec Ferrara, Stephen Croone and Larry Wideman -- 42-22. Croone and senior Colin Reddick led the Paladins (6-18, 3-10) with 12 points each.
"We really have six guys," Furman coach Jeff Jackson said. "We ran out of bodies. We got tired and our point guard (Croone) was cramping up."
The 34-point margin of victory was UTC's largest in a SoCon game since the Mocs beat former SoCon member East Tennessee State 93-59 on Jan. 22, 2005.
"It's awfully nice to win like that and for our kids to continue believing in what we're going," UTC coach John Shulman said. "We came out with energy and we sustained it."
The Mocs eased out to an early lead and used full-court pressure to force the young Paladins -- who played their fourth game in eight days -- into turnovers that became layups.
"Croone has been phenomenal for them, but we jumped on him quick with their doubles," Shulman said. "They had only one point guard, so we were able to take advantage of that. We caught them fatigued."
Less than three minutes into the game, UTC sophomore forward Lance Stokes soared in for a layup that missed its mark. His elbow came crashing down on Zlovaric's nose as he rose for an offensive rebound. Shulman said he chuckled when an official, after reviewing the play, said one UTC player hurt another.
"I knew it immediately," said Zlovaric, noting it was not the first time his nose was broken. "It all went to the right side. So I put it back as I ran to play defense."
The Mocs led by 15 when Zlovaric sprinted back to the UTC huddle sporting the mask. He laughed at McGhee's comment about the ugly protection.
"My nose isn't the smallest in the world naturally," said Zlovaric, who scored the next two times he caught the ball. "Maybe it's good to have this mask so you can't see it."
UTC headed into intermission leading 39-27 and owning its largest halftime lead of its SoCon season.
The Mocs forced four turnovers in the first four minutes of the second half and had full control of the game when Cobb hit a 3-pointer for a 58-37 lead with 12:33 to play. Furman, already trailing 60-41, went nearly five minutes without a point as UTC stretched its lead to 72-41.
"I felt like we were putting pressure on them and they were slowly breaking," McGhee said. "At some point, we got a great lead and we kept going."
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 ...