published Monday, February 25th, 2013

UTC keeps SoCon bye possibility alive

  • photo
    UTC freshman Eric Robertson jumps for a layup during the Mocs' upset win Saturday night against Southern Conference North Division winner Elon at McKenzie Arena.
    Photo by Jay Bailey /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The high-expectation University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball team with four senior starters last season went 11-21 and won five Southern Conference games.

The new Mocs are 12-17 overall and 7-9 in the SoCon, and multiple freshmen have been key contributors.

One win with two regular-season games left -- at Western Carolina and then Appalachian State -- eliminates the possibility of a second straight 20-loss season, counting the league tournament.

"With all the things we've been through, we surpassed last year's win total with this bunch," coach John Shulman said Sunday. "We're not done yet."

Although 20-win seasons have been more of a Mocs standard through the years than avoiding 20-loss seasons, this bunch has positive objectives remaining. They're not even completely out of the race for the fourth bye in the conference tournament.

The odds are long, but it could happen if four games play out exactly as needed.

It starts with UTC beating Western Carolina and Appalachian State defeating Samford this Thursday. Then on Saturday, the Mocs beating App State and WCU beating Samford would land all four teams with 9-9 SoCon records. UTC would own a 5-1 record against the rest of the group, giving it the final first-round bye.

Yet if one of the two non-Mocs games go in the other direction, UTC will be playing on the first day in Asheville, N.C.

"I figured it out this morning, but I try to not bring up seeds or byes," said Shulman, whose young team pulled out a 72-68 win over North Division champion Elon on Saturday.

"Winning the game wasn't the goal for us last night. Getting out of our comfort zone and playing harder than Elon and helping each other were the goals, and we wound up with more points than they did."

Elon entered having won 11 of its last 12 games and boasting on its official website that it was the North Division champion. The Phoenix (19-9, 12-4) played without leading scorer Lucas Troutman -- who warmed up -- because to a sore ankle.

The Mocs didn't care about Troutman. They had to recover from a historic whipping Thursday when UNC Greensboro won 94-68 by hitting 20 of 36 3-point attempts with Nicholas Paulos hitting 10 of 12 long-range shotts.

The Mocs did not practice Friday. They held meetings in McKenzie Arena, then gathered again for dinner at the Shulman residence.

"Like I said Thursday, we can't dwell on the loss," junior forward Zaccheus Mason after Saturday's game. "We had to move forward. We did a good job of focusing on the task and coming out on top."

The task changed once again this season, at least on the defensive side. For the time this season, and perhaps his career, Shulman never screamed, "Build a wall!" when the Mocs played defense. And he never called for the trapping defense that spurred some recent success.

"That's not good enough," Shulman said. "If [Sebastian] Koch was going to get a shot off, it was going to go in. Heading to Western, if [Tom] Tankelewicz attempts a shot, it's going in. We have to make sure he does not attempt a shot.

"It's a different way to do things."

It's been a different sort of season.

about David Uchiyama...

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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