The Chattanooga Mocs jumped out early and cruised to a 74-56 win over Alabama State in the semifinals of the Emerald Coast Classic. Stefan Kenic led four Mocs in double figures with 15 in his first game action this season.
Kenic was cleared Tuesday night from the NCAA. His waiver appeal for immediate eligibility was granted after transferring from Cleveland State. His impact was immediate as well.
His first shot was a 3pt from the right side which helped jump-start a 17-3 spurt to break open a 5-5 tie in the very early going. Maurice Commander capped the run for the 22-8 margin with 11:51 to go in the opening frame.
“This guy, he looked like he was preparing, waiting for this moment,” Coach Lamont Paris reflected on Kenic’s first appearance. “It’s a tribute to him. But to come out and be that efficient, I was really impressed. It’s not easy, especially that first game back.
“Maybe you put expectations on yourself, you think there’s expectations from the coaches, the fans. He did so well.”
Two Tobi Ewuosho free throws got the lead back inside 10, 22-13, at 9:45, but the Mocs rolled the rest of the half. They out-scored the Hornets 26-9 to take a 26-point advantage into intermission, 48-22.
The lead reached 30, 56-26, early in the second half. The Hornets fought back, but it was too steep a hill to climb. The closest it came was the 18-point final, 74-56, on D.J. Heath’s jumper with five seconds to go.
“I thought the guys set the tone early and did what we wanted to do defensively,” Paris added. “We really set the tone. It never amazes me that when your defense is doing really well, your offense finds a way to keep up. Today was one of those days, especially in the first half.”
Junior Rod Johnson echoed those thoughts, "We were knocking down shots and that gets everyone going. We took control and coach [Paris] told us from the get-go how hard their schedule has been and that they're a tough team. He told us we can't take them lightly and we need to do what we do. We went out and did that."
Kenic was joined in double digits by Ramon Vila with 13, Jean-Baptiste with 11 and Matt Ryan’s 10. Ewuosho had 10 points and eight rebounds to pace ASU.
The Mocs move on to the championship game of their bracket Saturday at 1:30 p.m., Eastern time, against Jacksonville State. The Gamecocks topped Chicago State 71-62 in the early game.
The 5-game tour of the southeast concludes with the Southern Conference opener at Western Carolina on Dec. 3. After approximately 2,000 miles of travel over a two-week period, the Mocs come home on Dec. 8 to take on Tennessee Wesleyan. Tickets are available on GoMocs.com or by calling (423) 266-MOCS (6627).