Saturday was not the most pleasant of days to be at McKenzie Arena for a couple of Southern Conference basketball games, especially if you are a fan of the Chattanooga Mocs.
Chattanooga’s Lady Mocs had a chance to give coach Jim Foster his 900th career victory, but the first-place Mercer Lady Bears had other plans and kept their spot on the top with a convincing 71-50 victory.
Then in the second game of the day between Virginia Military Institute and UTC in a battle to see who could escape last place in the conference, the guys from Lexington, Va. headed back home with a hard-fought 70-69 victory in a game that could have gone either way.
The Mercer women improve to 20-2 overall with their 17th straight win, including 15 in a row by double-digit margins of victory. The Bears are still in first place at 7-0.
The Lady Mocs fall to 4-3 in conference play and 13-8 overall.
VMI is now 7-13 overall and 2-7 in SoCon play while the UTC men fall to 7-15 overall and 1-8 in conference play.
MERCER WOMEN 71, CHATTANOOGA 50: Mercer played really well in the first and third quarters and that was more than enough to snap the Lady Mocs’ streak of 53 straight wins against conference opponents.
The Bears raced to a 10-0 lead at the start as the Lady Mocs missed their first nine shots from the field.
Lakelyn Bouldin broke the drought for UTC with a 3 from the key with 4:40 to play and she added another bucket with 1:16 remaining, but that’s all UTC would score as the visitors from Macon had a commanding 23-5 lead when the first quarter ended.
The Lady Mocs started the second period on an 11-2 run to get within 25-16 following a 3 by Mya Long with 4:53 showing and that nine-point margin was the difference as Mercer had a 33-24 lead at intermission.
Arianne Whitaker scored UTC’s first bucket in the second half as Chattanooga got within 33-26, but the rest of the quarter belonged to the Bears as they scored the final eight points and had their biggest lead of the day at 58-36 with one quarter remaining.
The Lady Mocs enjoyed a 14-13 scoring edge in the final stanza, but that earlier lead was simply too much to overcome.
Mercer coach Susie Gardner was happy to win against a tough team at home, but she was also pleased to become the winningest coach in Mercer women’s history with an overall mark of 310-256 and 134-109 at Mercer.
“It’s always a challenge playing here, but I’m very much pleased with the outcome,” she began her post-game comments.
“We’ve had some pretty good first quarters this season, but we knew UTC would make a run. We had more turnovers than assists and I’m not really happy about that as we normally take better care of the ball. But we had a nice edge in rebounding, so that makes up for it,” she added.
Chattanooga coach Foster never beats around the bush and he surely didn’t with his team’s latest loss.
“Mercer has a veteran team and they played like it today. We had the opportunity to take some good shots, but we were tentative at times. I thought our freshmen played hard and Mya (Long) and Brooke (Burns) both got some valuable minutes they normally don’t get,” he added.
The Bears had four players in double figures, including KeKe Calloway and Kahlia Lawrence with 17 points apiece. Rachel Selph and Sydni Means followed with 12 and 11 points, respectively.
Bouldin had a dozen points to lead the Lady Mocs while Aryanna Gilbert and Whitaker were next with 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Mercer had a commanding 41-24 advantage on the boards as Means grabbed nine for the winners. Gilbert was tops for UTC with five.
Mercer was 30 of 60 from the field for an even 50 percent while UTC finished 21 of 56 for 37.5 percent after a dismal two of 15 in the first quarter.
The Lady Mocs return to action next Thursday with a game at Western Carolina while the Bears hope to keep their winning streak alive at home against Furman on Thursday.
VMI 70, CHATTANOOGA 69: This was a hard-fought game between two teams doing their best to avoid last place in the conference.
It was a battle down to the final second and the Keydets were able to leave with a win after Chattanooga’s Rodney Chatman missed on a contested drive at the buzzer.
The score was tied six times and the lead changed hands 14 times, but VMI had the lead when it counted most.
UTC’s Makinde London sank the second of two free throws with 58.8 seconds left before Chatman made both of his charity tosses with 28.2 seconds to give the Mocs a 69-67 lead.
The Keydets worked the ball inside on their next possession and missed three shots before Tyler Creammer was fouled in the act of shooting. He made the second one to get VMI within a point with 17 seconds left, but his team got the ball back when the Mocs were called for walking on the inbounds play.
Austin Vereen then scored on a layup with seven seconds later to provide the winning points. The Mocs had time to set up a final play, but Chatman’s shot simply did not fall.
“That was a hard-fought game by both teams and we were just fortunate to make the last basket. It wasn’t always pretty, but it’s nice to be on the winning side for a change,” VMI coach Dan Earl suggested afterward.
“So much of this game is about confidence and I hope a game like this will give us a nice dose, but I know what Lamont (UTC coach Paris) is going through as we have a young team too. Getting game experience can be painful at times, so I know what he feels like right now,” the VMI coach added.
“I’m really disappointed in the loss and especially how it went down at the end,” the first-year UTC coach said to begin his post-game comments.
“We had the opportunity to make the plays down the stretch in the final minute and failed to do so. We had several options at the end before that travel was called. I thought we played okay and certainly well enough to win.
“It comes down to making a play at the end and it just didn’t happen. I’m not happy about it, but we just have to keep battling to get better. We didn’t do a very good job defensively in the first half and that’s what I talked about most during the break. Our shot selection was okay at times, but there were times when we shot it too quickly.
“We can’t afford to hang our heads as we have another big game here on Monday,” he concluded with reference to another conference game against UNC-Greensboro.
Bubba Parham has 26 points to lead the winners, including 18 in the first half. Teammate Garrett Gilkeson was next with 17, including all five of his shots from 3-point range.
The Mocs had four players in double figures, including Joshua Phillips and James Lewis Jr. with 15 points apiece. London finished with a dozen while Nat Dixon had 10.
Gilkeson also had 10 rebounds as VMI won the battle of the boards, 35-30. Lewis was tops for UTC with eight while London snagged seven.
Shooting percentages were pretty even as VMI made 28 of 62 shots for 45.2 percent while UTC was 24 of 50 for 48 percent.
MERCER 23 10 25 13 -- 71
CHATTANOOGA 5 19 12 14 -- 50
MERCER (71) – Thompson 4, Selph 12, Calloway 17, Means 11, Lawrence 17, Rosendal, Williams 6, Potts 4.
CHATTANOOGA (50) – Melton, K. Gilbert 2, Lee, Bouldin 12, A. Gilbert 11, Long 7, Whitaker 10, Dial, Davenport 2, Burns 6, Wert.
3-POINT GOALS: Mercer 3-8; Chattanooga 4-15.
REBOUNDS: Mercer 41 (Means 9); Chattanooga 24 (A. Gilbert 5).
ASSISTS: Mercer 8 (Means 5); Chattanooga 9 (Melton 2, A. Gilbert 2, Davenport 2).
STEALS: Mercer 7, Chattanooga 5.
VMI (70) – Creammer 5, Vereen 4, Smith, Gilkeson 17, B. Parham 26, Iruafemi 4, G. Parham, Ratliffe 4, Lewis 3, Miller 4, Patel 3.
UTC (69) – Dixon 10, Phillips 15, Foreman 8, Chatman 9, Jean-Baptiste, Lewis 15, London 12.
3-POINT SHOTS: VMI 10-18 (Vereen 0-3, Smith 0-2, Gilkeson 5-5, B. Parham 3-6, Lewis 1-1, Patel 1-1); Chattanooga 6-24 (Dixon 2-6, Foreman 2-7, Chatman 1-3, Jean-Baptiste 0-2, London 1-6).
REBOUNDS: VMI 35 (Gilkeson 10, Vereen 7); Chattanooga 30 (Lewis 8, London 7).
ASSISTS: VMI 13 (B. Parham 7, Vereen 3); Chattanooga 15 (Chatman 6, Foreman 4).
STEALS: VMI 3, Chattanooga 3.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)