Lamont Paris came into the post-game interview room at McKenzie Arena Thursday night with a smile on his face and he had to feel good after getting his first win as the head coach of the Chattanooga Mocs basketball team.
We all know that the Mocs are the youngest team in the NCAA this fall and they had lost their first two games on the road, including an embarrassing 89-47 loss at Alabama-Birmingham on Monday.
But they got on the winning track in the first home game of the season as they whipped the Hiwassee Tigers by a 94-46 final.
Granted, this was a winnable game for the Mocs and they did so without a problem, although they were a little slow getting out of the gate.
“We evaluate our progress from one game to the next, so the number of points we scored really doesn’t matter,” said Paris after his Mocs shot 56.4 percent from the field after hitting 31 of 55 shots, including 14 of 27 from long range.
“We were locked in most the game on defense and I felt like we shared the ball well on offense. Those are two areas I’m especially happy with. We were able to see results from what we’ve been working on since Monday and I feel like we competed better tonight, but I’m excited for these guys to get a win and it’s nice to see the starters get to cheer for the guys off the bench later in the game,” he added.
The Tigers scored first when Dess Culpepper scored on a hook with 18:11 left in the first half. A jumper from the key by Aario Johnson gave the guests from Madisonville a 4-2 lead while another short jumper in the lane by Culpepper gave Hiwassee the lead at 6-5.
Tevin Henry scored six of eight points in a stretch just over three minutes to give the Tigers a 14-9 lead with 11 minutes left in the half, but that’s when the Mocs caught fire and turned things around.
Chattanooga had started the game cold from the field by hitting only three of its first 14 shots, but they finished the half by sinking 12 of their next 14 to turn that five-point deficit into a 19-point lead at intermission.
Makinde London, a lanky 6-10 junior from Nashville, scored on an alley-oop layup right before the buzzer as UTC’s lead swelled to 42-23 at the break.
Things didn’t get much better for Hiwassee in the second half.
After shooting 40.7 percent from the field in the first half after hitting 11 of 27 shots, they were frigid in the second 20 minutes as they started off by hitting two of 21 attempts in the first 12 minutes as that 19-point lead swelled to 75-32 with 7:47 to play after Nat Dixon sank the second of two free throws.
The biggest question remaining was if the Mocs could break the century mark.
It looked quite possible when Jonathan Bryant II gave Chattanooga its biggest lead of 58 points at 92-34 with 3:44 to play, but the UTC subs were in at that point and scoring more points simply wasn’t the main objective.
London was also smiling big after his career-high 20 points and six rebounds.
“We had another opportunity today as we’re back at ground zero, but we just wanted to compete,” he began his post-game comments.
“It’s a long season and there are lots of games ahead, so we can’t afford to get too high or too low. Experience is a great teacher, so it was good to see the young guys come in and do well at the end. That will pay off down the road,” he added.
While London was the scoring leader for the Mocs, Rodney Chatman and Dixon were also in double figures with 15 and 13 points, respectively.
David Jean-Baptiste, Duane Moss and Bryant all followed with nine while James Lewis finished with eight.
Henry was the scoring leader for Hiwassee with eight points, including six in the first half.
Ben Snider, a 6-1 junior from Chattanooga, tossed in seven while Culpepper and Johnson were next with six apiece.
The Mocs won the rebound battle by a 39-26 final after holding a 20-12 advantage at the half.
Dixon had seven for the Mocs while Lewis, London and Jean-Baptiste all snagged six apiece.
Chattanooga is now 1-2 for the young season and will be home again on Monday to challenge Alabama State. Hiwassee is now 6-3 following Thursday’s loss.
HIWASSEE (46) – Culpepper 6, A. Johnson 6, Cade 4, Newman 1, Henry 8, J. Johnson 2, Williams, Almeda, Snider 7, Harmon 3, Michell 2, Fudge 3, Ufere 4, Clisby.
CHATTANOOGA (94) – Dixon 13, Lewis 8, London 20, Foreman 5, Chatman 15, Jean-Baptiste 9, DesMaris, Brewster 6, Bowers, Moss 9, Massengill, Bryant 9.
FIELD GOALS: Hiwassee 18 of 54 for 33.3 percent; Chattanooga 31 of 55 for 56.4 percent.
3-POINT GOALS: Hiwassee 3 of 15 for 20 percent (Snider, Harmon); Chattanooga 14 of 27 for 51.9 percent (Dixon 2, London 2, Foreman, Chatman 2, Jean-Baptiste, Brewster 2, Moss 3, Bryant).
REBOUNDS: Hiwassee 26 (Culpepper 5, A. Johnson 4); Chattanooga 39 (Dixon 7, Lewis 6, London 6, Jean-Baptiste 6.)
ASSISTS: Hiwassee 10 (Newman, J. Johnson and Williams two each); Chattanooga 22 (Foreman 7, Jean-Baptiste 6).
HALFTIME SCORE: Chattanooga, 42-23.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)