ASHEVILLE, N.C. — John Shulman took one last glance at the scoreboard on the north side of the U.S. Cellular Center.
It read: UNCG 87, UTC 81.
He quickly glanced down at the floor and continued to his University of Tennessee at Chattanooga team's locker room.
Mocs trudged along behind him sporting expressions of disbelief and disappointment, knowing their season ended in a Southern Conference tournament game they led by 11 points with 10 minutes to play.
"I was proud of our kids. We fought through a lot of adversity this year. I was proud to be their basketball coach," Shulman said. "We withstood a punch, came back, but you have to give them credit because [UNCG] made some big shots.
"But we never stopped fighting, so I was awfully proud to be their coach."
UNC Greensboro senior guard Derrell Armstrong propelled a second-half comeback by scoring nine straight points in one stretch, 22 in the second half and 25 in the game. He'd tallied nine points in two previous games against UTC this season, both wins for the Spartans.
Trevis Simpson, who tied a UNCG record with 41 points against UTC in January, scored 17 points (13 in the second half). Nicholas Paulos -- who had 30 points in the second matchup -- added 11 points.
"I figured it was Armstrong's turn," Shulman said. "He goes 4-for-5 from the 3 in big situations, and [Korey] Van Dussen made a big one. That's what seniors are supposed to do."
Zaccheus Mason led UTC (13-19) with 20 points and eight rebounds in the final game of the season. Sophomore guard Ronrico White scored 19 points, and freshman Casey Jones added 11 points and six rebounds.
"We were going to ride Z as long as we could ride him," Shulman said. "We played really good. They beat us. We did not beat ourselves."
This is the third straight year that the Mocs lost in the first round of the tournament.
"Silent," White described the locker room. "Everybody is just heartbroken. It's a tough loss."
The Mocs had little sense that they were going to lose through the first 30 minutes of the game. Bench players cheered every point, managers stuck with their superstition of holding out a fist on free throws, and the blue-and-gold section behind the bench spent more time on its feet than in its seats.
"We're all disappointed," Mocs freshman Gee McGhee said. "We have to come together. We don't want to give it up again."
The Mocs built an 11-point lead less than five minutes into the game and put UNCG's stating frontcourt in foul trouble, which allowed a combination of Mason and other UTC posts to score 24 points and grab 10 rebounds in the first half. They led 43-32 at the break despite White playing with two fouls.
"They shot it well and made more plays than us early, but we never for one second looked like we were giving in," UNCG coach Wes Miller said. "I felt togetherness like I hadn't felt from this group before."
A three-point play by McGhee gave UTC a 60-49 lead with 12:25 to play. UNCG (9-21) inched within six before a jumper by Mason gave UTC a 67-56 cushion with 10:08 to go.
Then the Spartans started their onslaught, culminating a 55-point second half.
They went on a 21-8 run that Jordan Potts capped with a 3-pointer for a 70-68 UNCG lead with 6:58 to go. UNCG scored on eight of 11 possessions during that surge.
The run continued until UNCG led 83-74 with 2:55 to go. The Mocs didn't quit. UTC forced three straight turnovers and turned them into points to pull within 83-81 with the ball. But Mason missed on a post move and the Mocs couldn't get that close again.
"We have to develop a killer instinct," McGhee said. "We start hitting big shots and get defensive stops."
The development begins today. The Mocs are scheduled to watch the Lady Mocs play today at noon and then watch a quarterfinal game of the men's tournament.
"Our young kids have to see this and experience this or they don't understand what it's all about," Shulman said. "I'm not running down to Charleston. I'm going to go home and I'll probably have the team over to watch the championship game. I thought we battled tonight, but they have to grow up and take the next step. If that's the next step, we'll take it."
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 ...