published Saturday, March 2nd, 2013

Chattanooga Mocs seek to win and wait for bye fate

UTC seeding possibilities

UTC could be seeded anywhere from No. 4 with a first-round bye to No. 8 in the SoCon men's basketball tournament based on today's results. Here are the possibilities:

No. 4: If UTC wins at Appalachian State and Western Carolina beats Samford

No. 5: If UTC beats ASU and Samford beats WCU

No. 6: If ASU beats UTC and Samford beats WCU

No. 7: If ASU and Samford win and Davidson beats Georgia Southern

No. 8: If ASU, Samford and GSU win

The Mocs need to help themselves.

Then they need some help from purple-clad friends at Western Carolina.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga can complete an unexpected men's basketball regular season if it wins a 2 p.m. game at Appalachian State and WCU defeats Samford in a 4:30 game in Cullowhee, N.C.

Those events would give the Mocs, who were picked to finish last in the Southern Conference North Division in preseason polls, a first-round bye in the SoCon tournament.

"We've battled and battled and we didn't let adversity stand in our way," UTC coach John Shulman said via cellphone. "Before the season, I thought we could be pretty good if the freshmen grew up and Dontay [Hampton] came back [from knee surgery].

"But if you would have told me we'd get him back for just four games, lose Casey [Jones] and lose Lance [Stokes] for seven weeks, I would have said there's no way we're playing for something important.

"I'm pleasantly surprised."

The Mocs (13-17, 8-9) kept their bye hopes alive by holding off Western Carolina 81-72 on Thursday after leading by 14 at halftime. The Catamounts climbed within two points with about 90 seconds to play.

"We were happy we got the win in a tough environment," sophomore guard Ronrico White said. "We set the tone early. We were getting stops and finishing possessions. But in the second half, we really let our guard down defensively, and they got second-shot opportunities and they took advantage of it."

Yet the Mocs won. Then they, according to Shulman, were tapping their phones to find an updated score from the Samford-at-ASU game, which the Mountaineers won 70-67 in two overtimes.

No team has won the SoCon tournament in its current format without having the first round off.

"The guys know where they are," Shulman said while reviewing the ASU-Samford game. "Everyone was sneaking around with their phones and everyone was pumped that App won. But you can't get caught up with results of other games."

It will be Samford players who may checking their phones prior to tipoff today.

"You have to play the game," Shulman said. "If you get caught up in that mess of who's where, then the game passes you by."

The Mocs and Mountaineers (13-15, 9-8) played a historic game -- at least from the Mocs' perspective -- on Jan. 17 in McKenzie Arena.

UTC trailed by 19 points with 6:36 to play. Hampton, who is on the road trip with his teammates, hit a 3-pointer to tie the game with 18 seconds left, and ASU did not score on its final try. It's the largest known comeback by a Mocs team with less than eight minutes to play.

"We're expecting them to come out with a lot of fight after we upset them in our place, and we think they'll try to prove a point and jump on us early," said junior Zaccheus Mason, who scored 25 points and grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds at WCU on Thursday. "I remember us not playing our best game in the first half, then coming back and getting the win."

The first-round bye goes bye-bye if the Mocs don't win. Even if they do, Samford's Bulldogs can snatch it away later.

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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