The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga women’s basketball team held off Mercer 56-51 to claim its third straight Southern Conference regular season title and second in Jim Foster’s two years at the helm Monday night at Hawkins Arena.
The Mocs improve to 25-3 overall and 13-0 in league play while the Bears fall to 16-13 on the year and 8-5 against the SoCon.
Mercer started out the game with a 14-4 advantage in the first 6:33 of the game. The Mocs, however, bounced back with a 9-2 run to climb back into the game to get within three points at 16-13 with 7:08 to go in the first half.
Chattanooga cut the lead to one point 4:19 later on a layup from freshman Keiana Gilbert (Columbia, Tenn.).
The Bears would not relinquish the lead the remainder of the half and led 23-21 at intermission.
After shooting just 32 percent in the first half, the Mocs came out strong in the second, making 15-of-26 shots for a 57.7 shooting performance. UTC was 23-of-51 (45.1%) for the game from the field and were 2-of-9 from the 3-point line. From the free throw line, UTC made 8-of-12 and outrebounded Mercer 35-34.
The Bears shot 37.1 percent for the game (23-62) and were 1-of-7 from the 3-point line. From the free throw line, Mercer was 4-of-6 (66.7%).
Chattanooga wasted no time in the second half to make its move on Mercer. The Bears’ Precious Bridges missed a pair of layups with a 25-23 lead on the Mocs in the latter frame. A minutes-and-a-half later, UTC sophomore Jasmine Joyner (Southaven, Miss.) shoveled a pass to Gilbert to give Chattanooga a 27-25 lead with 15:55 to play and the Mocs would not trail again.
Mercer cut the lead to one point six more times in the half and tie it up 49-49 on a layup by Teanna Robinson with 2:29 to play. The Mocs would outscore Mercer 7-2 over the final 1:53 with three free throws from senior Ka’Vonne Towns in the final 31 seconds to seal the win.
Joyner had a team-high 18 points and was the only Chattanooga player in double figures. She added in six rebounds, three assists and seven blocked shots and sits on block away from the SoCon single season record of 117 set by Marshall’s Sharon Deal in the 1988-89 season.
Junior Alicia Payne (Memphis, Tenn.) was 4-of-5 from the field for eight points and had five rebounds and senior Destiny Bramblett came off the bench for eight points and two rebounds. Towns closed out the night with seven points, seven rebounds and two steals.
UTC dominated the paint 30-12 and edged Mercer 11-10 on bench points. The Bears outscored the Mocs 12-7 off turnovers forcing the Mocs into 15 while committing 12 and had 11 second chance points off 14 offensive rebounds while Chattanooga had four points off 10 offensive boards.
Chattanooga claims its 19th Southern Conference regular season title since 1984 and 14th in 16 years. Earlier Monday, the Mocs moved up to 18th in the AP Top 25 women’s basketball poll, their highest ranking in school history. UTC was ranked 19th for the last three weeks of the 1983-84 season and were 20th in the final poll that year.
The regular season will close out Saturday, Feb. 28 at home against ETSU. The Bucs fell to Samford tonight for their second loss in the league, assuring UTC of the title. Saturday’s game will tip at 2 p.m. and Chattanooga will honor its seniors after the game.
Tickets are on sale at the McKenzie Arena box office at (423) 266-MOCS (6627) or online at GoMocs.com. REIGNITE THE RIVALRY!!