The early season games for the Chattanooga Mocs have been challenging to say the least, but they took a step in the right direction with a victory in their first conference game of the year Sunday afternoon at McKenzie Arena.
The Mocs, who endured a tough four-game losing streak at one point, have now won three in a row to get even at 5-5 with Sunday’s impressive 83-65 victory over the Virginia Military Institute Keydets.
The game was close in the first half with four ties and four lead changes, but the Mocs used a 6-0 run midway through the first 20 minutes to turn a 21-19 deficit into a 25-21 lead and they never trailed again.
While the Mocs are now 5-5 overall and 1-0 in Southern Conference play, the Keydets dropped their fourth straight game and are now 5-6 overall and 0-1 in conference play.
It had been eight days since UTC’s last win – a 71-60 victory over Tennessee Tech last Saturday – but they’ve had a chance to work on some stuff since that time and coach Lamont Paris saw some of the payoff on Sunday.
“We’ve had some of our best practices and we’re playing better, but it’s nice to get off to a good start and we’ll be 1-0 for a while,” Paris said in reference to the next conference game on Dec. 29 against North Carolina-Greensboro.
“We had some guys break out a little bit today and I thought our defense was much better in the second half. I thought we did a nice job of attacking offensively and our effort and energy was good today. We won’t live and die by the 3, but we’re capable of making them at every position and we shot pretty well from that distance today,” he added.
VMI coach Dan Earls gave the Mocs a lot of credit for their patience on offense and for shooting better than average.
“Chattanooga did an outstanding job of being patient and they got some really good looks against our match-up zone. I’m not sure we adjusted very well. We didn’t shoot the ball very well and it’s hard to be successful when the shots don’t fall,” he began.
“Bubba missed a lot of shots he normally makes, but it was a tough game for him overall. And I’m not necessarily pleased with how we played today,” he concluded.
The Mocs canned 29 of 64 field goal attempts for 45.3 percent, but also made 13 of 34 from long range for 38.2 percent.
Chattanooga missed its first 3 to start the second half before hitting four in a row as a nine-point halftime lead of 48-39 stretched to 62-48 before the first media timeout. The Keydets never got any closer than a dozen the rest of the way.
The biggest lead came with four minutes to play when Kevin Easley converted a three-point play to put the Mocs up 78-58.
While the Mocs did a lot of things well in winning impressively, nothing may have been any more important than the job David Jean-Baptiste did on Bubba Parham.
The sophomore from Snellville, Ga. came in leading the conference at 21.9 points per game. He was one of four VMI players to finish in double figures with 13 points, but he earned every single point and the most experienced UTC player got plenty of praise from coach Paris.
“We knew what kind of player he is and knew that it would be tough to defend him with just one player, but I challenged David before the game. We tried to make his shots difficult, but David had an outstanding game and I couldn’t be any happier for him,” he said.
The 6-1 sophomore from Miami was the second-leading scorer for the Mocs with 18 points. He also grabbed six rebounds, dished out five assists and had no turnovers while playing all but two minutes of the entire game.
Easley captured scoring honors for both teams as he finished with 26 points after getting 16 in the first half. He also led the team with eight rebounds.
Jerry Johnson had 17 points and Jonathan Scott 11 for the Mocs.
While Bubba Parham’s 13 was tops for VMI, Myles Lewis and Garrett Gilkeson both followed with a dozen while Sarju Patel came off the bench to toss in 10.
Both teams return to action with road games on Wednesday. VMI will be at Presbyterian while UTC travels to Georgia State.
VMI (65) – Lewis 12, Creammer 6, Gilkeson 12, B. Parham 13, G. Parham 5, Patel 10, Stephens 5, Bond, Arnold 2.
CHATTANOOGA (83) – Easley 26, Smallwood 3, Scott 11, Johnson 17, Jean-Baptiste 18, Brown, Caldwell 2, Kerby 6.
3-POINT GOALS: VMI 6 of 23 for 26.1 percent (Lewis 0-2, Gilkeson 1-4, B. Parham 1-5, G. Parham 1-4, Patel 2-3, Stephens 1-3, Bond 0-1, Arnold 0-1); Chattanooga 13 of 34 for 38.2 percent (Easley 2-3, Smallwood 1-2, Scott 3-4, Johnson 4-10, Jean-Baptiste 3-8, Caldwell 0-3, Kerby 0-4).
REBOUNDS: VMI 39 (Gilkeson 8, Lewis 7); Chattanooga 38 (Easley 8, Jean-Baptiste 6, Caldwell 6, Johnson 5).
FIELD GOALS: VMI 24 for 62 for 39.3 percent; Chattanooga 29 for 64 for 45.3 percent.
ASSISTS: VMI 10 (Gilkeson 4, B. Parham 4); Chattanooga 20 (Johnson 6, Scott 5, Jean-Baptiste 5).
HALFTIME SCORE: Chattanooga 48-39.
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)