Ga. Southern Stuns UTC, 77-61

Thursday, February 20, 2014 - by B.B. Branton

 An out-hustled, out-toughed Chattanooga men's basketball team lost at home Thursday night for the first time in three months as visiting Georgia Southern defeated the Mocs, 77-61, in a Southern Conference men's basketball game.

Led by hot-shooting Jelani Hewitt - 8 of 15 from the field, including 6 of 11 from 3-point land - with 24 points, three steals and three assists, the visiting Eagles snapped a four-game losing streak and made it five straight over the Mocs since Dec. 2011 and snapped UTC's 9-game home win streak.

The Mocs last home loss was 73-69 to Kennesaw (Ga.) State Nov.19.

GSU's Tre Bussey led all scorers with 25 points, while Angel Matias added 14 points and Mathrvin Bayhham had a game-high 10 rebounds.

"We are playing our best basketball of the year and are headed in the right direction," said GSU coach Mark Byington. "UTC played tough early (led by 11 at 16-5 at 15:44), but we were able to stay poised and come back."

Come back they did as in an eight minute stretch - final five of the first half and first three of the second half - the Eagles went from down 12 (29-17 at 5:23) to up 10 (46-36 at 17:11) capped by a 3-pointer by Bussey.

While the Mocs did cut it to seven at 48-41 at 15:10 on a layup by Z Mason, the Eagles' were not in any danger of losing the lead down the stretch.

Mason led the Mocs with 21 points and seven rebounds, followed by Greg Pryor with 10 points.

UTC is now 16-12 overall and 10-3 in the SoCon, while Ga. Southern is 12-16, 5-8.

"Give Georgia Southern credit as they out-worked and out-toughed us the last 25 minutes of the game," said UTC coach Will Wade.

"The wanted it more than we did. We were prepared, but we didn't do the little things necessary to win."

The visiting Eagles hurt the Mocs by outscoring the hosts in the paint, 40-20, out-rebounded, 37-30, and out-shot UTC, 52.5%-40.0%.

Fast Start: After Hewitt connected on his first 3-pointer at 19:02 for a 3-0 lead, Mason and Gee McGhe took over, scoring the next nine points as part of a 16-2 Mocs run to lead 16-5 at 15:44 on five assists.

UTC held its largest lead of the night (12) at 29-17 before GSU took charge. The Eagles run was, capped by a pair of Hewitt 3-pointers (the second one at the buzzer) sandwiched around a Brian Holmes layup which gave the visitors a 36-34 advantage at intermission.

"Hewitt's shot at the end of the half gave us belief," said coach Byington.

"Our defense picked up when we scored in those final five minutes of the first half.".

Coach Wade said," Tonight we got frustrated and should have been up by double digits at half time, but instead we found ourselves down two.

"We sat around and complained and moped, were soft on our finishes and shot fade-aways which is not out game.".

Second Half: The momentum stayed with GSU early in the second half, as the Mocs found themselves down by 10 (46-36) after three minutes, down 14 (59-45) at the 10 minute mark and trailed by a game-high 19 (twice) at 70-51 at 5:34 (and again at 77-58 at :57).

"We have played with a blue collar mentality most of the year, but we took a huge step back tonight," said coach Wade.

Z Mason said, "They beat us in all the small things."

Hewitt White Hot: the 6-2 junior from Miramar, Fla. hit 3s seemingly at will and some from NBA range (23' 9" compared to 19'9" in college)

Three Games Remaining: The Mocs look to rebound with a Sunday road game with UNC Greensboro, followed by a game at Western Carolina (Feb. 27) a week from tonight,

Senior Night: UTC hosts Appalachian State Sat. March 1 at 7 p.m, in final regular season game.

Big Loss A Year Ago:  Tonight's loss was the biggest (16 pts.) since UTC lost to UNC-Greensboro by 24 (94-68) in McKenzie Arena - Thurs. Feb. 21, 2013

Georgia Southern 77, Chattanooga 61

GSU  36-41 -- 77

UTC 34-27 -- 61

Records: GSU (12-16, 5-8) UTC (16-12, 10-3)

Southern Conference Standings

Tonight, UTC lost, Western Carolina (9-4) won as did Wofford who is now (10-3) and tied with UTC for second place.

Top 5 Receive Byes in SoCon Tourney

1. Davidson 16-11, 12-1

2. UTC 16-12, 10-3

2. Wofford 16-10, 10-3

4 Elon 15-11, 8-3

5. Western Carolina 16-12, 9-4

Big Upcoming Games: Sunday- UTC at UNCG ... Sat - Elon at Ga. Southern

PHOTOS: Lady Vols Douse Flames, 100-60

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