RADFORD, Va. — Greg Pryor noticed the difference long before tipoff.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga freshman recalled the basketball Mocs being talkative and enjoying their early shootaround at Radford University on Monday.
But the evening warm-up didn't have the same vibe. It was quiet.
Players could have been focused, perhaps. But it certainly lacked the chatter and anticipation felt in the Mocs' first game of the season, a whipping of Division III member Covenant.
The difference in shooting sessions carried over. Radford jumped out to leads of 10-1, 21-11, and 31-16 before finishing off UTC 89-78 in the Dedmon Center on the shore of the New River. A combination of foul trouble and shooting 8-of-29 in the first half got the Mocs too far behind to catch up.
"I felt real comfortable about the game and that we had everything we needed," said Pryor, who had 17 points, three assists and zero turnovers. "In shootaround we were talking. Then in warm-ups everybody got quiet.
"We tried to pick it up, but it didn't kick in until after their team made their run."
These Mocs, as coach Will Wade has said numerous times, have a small margin for error. Slow starts are not within that margin that would allow UTC to win games against comparable competition such as the Highlanders, who play in the Big South Conference.
"We can't dig those types of holes," Wade said Monday night, clutching a box score in his hands. "They punched us in the mouth. We couldn't ever settle into the game and execute our game plan with our pressing. We couldn't settle in early enough."
The Mocs did close to within 37-30, but the margin went back to 39-30 with three minutes to go before the break, and from there they trailed by double digits until 61 seconds remained. The deficit grew as large as 25 points with 14:26 to play.
"We started off slow, which throws off our offense as well as being able to press off made baskets," senior Zaccheus Mason, who committed three fouls in the first half, said after the game. "Being in foul trouble was a struggle. Personnel-wise, it threw off the flow of the game for us."
Wade watched the game once during the 330-mile bus ride back to McKenzie Arena and several times again Tuesday to make a list of talking points with his assistants and his players.
The list included plenty that needs to be improved as well as favorable notes from UTC's attempted comeback from 25 points down on the road with eight scholarship players and one walk-on.
"There are some good teaching points on tape," Wade said during a news conference Tuesday. "We're not that far off from being pretty good. We are far off in some areas. But as a team, we're not that far off. That's the main point."
It's something they can all talk about today.
The players were able to take Tuesday off and will return for two days of practice before facing Montreat -- an NAIA Division II school -- Saturday at 7 p.m. in McKenzie Arena.
"I'm [going to] see our mistakes on film and learn what we need to do," sophomore Gee McGhee said. "I'm looking forward to Saturday."
Contact David Uchiyama at firstname.lastname@example.org 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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