Saturday was a pretty good day to be at McKenzie Arena, especially if you’re a fan of the Chattanooga Mocs.
It all began with the Chattanooga women beating the King University Tornado by a 62-47 for their third straight win and it ended with the Chattanooga men standing tall at the end and defeating the Murray State Racers by a 69-66 final.
The Mocs improve to 3-3 overall while the Racers are now 3-3 as well.
Saturday’s win was the first for the Mocs over a Division I team after rolling past Oakland City and Covenant in their previous two wins. Murray State was certainly a formidable opponent who had beaten Texas A&M just last week at the Myrtle Beach Invitational.
The Racers had a 34-30 lead at the half and led by as many as seven in the final 20 minutes, but the Mocs simply refused to lose and kept battling for every point they could score.
D.J. Burns converted a three-point play with 4:56 to play to give Murray State a 57-55 lead before the Mocs scored 10 unanswered points for a 65-57 lead at the 2:07 mark following a 3 by Jamaal Walker.
Rob Perry kept his team in the game by scoring the last nine points, the last from the free throw line with 9.3 seconds left to get his team within a point at 67-66.
Jake Stephens had given the Mocs a three-point lead right before that with two free throws. Jamal Johnson was fouled on the inbounds play and went to the charity stripe where he calmly sank both shots for a 69-66 lead with 7.2 seconds to play.
The Mocs defended well on the inbounds play and Kenny White’s long shot bounced off the rim as the final horn sounded.
It wasn’t a pretty win by any stretch of the imagination, but first-year UTC coach Dan Earl would always prefer winning ugly than losing pretty.
“That was a hard-fought win and we just kept scratching and clawing,” he told Jim Reynolds in his post-game radio show.
“There were times when we didn’t shoot the ball very well, but we have a lot of confidence in our guys and you just have to keep shooting. We did knock down some free throws late and Jamaal Walker made two huge shots.
“We didn’t finish it out like we had planned as we were originally planning to foul, but luckily, they missed that last shot. I thought Jake Stephens was outstanding tonight, but he also had some help, so it’s a good feeling to get this win,” Earl added.
Murray State also has a first-year coach in Steve Prohm. He liked the way his team played at the end, but he hated seeing that final shot miss.
“We gave up way too many uncontested 3s, but we’ll just have to learn from experiences like this,” he said on the Murray State post-game radio show.
“I thought we played well in the first half and maybe should have been up by more than four, but Chattanooga was just happy for it to be that close. I thought we were really efficient in the final two minutes, but we have to be more efficient on both ends to be successful.
“Chattanooga made free throws down the stretch and you have to give them credit for that. We had a lot of opportunities for good plays, but we just have to make more. We will continue to have ups and downs as a team, but we just have to keep growing,” Prohm nodded.
Chattanooga only hit five of 19 from long range in the first half, but that percentage was much better in the final 20 minutes as they connected on eight of 20. The Mocs also sank 82.4 percent of their free throws by making 14 of 17 after making just three of four in the first half.
Stephens had one of his best games in a Chattanooga uniform after transferring from VMI. He had 20 points and seven rebounds in the first half finished with 27 points and 11 rebounds.
Johnson was also in double figures with 13 points and made both of his shots from long range. Demetrius Davis was the third Moc in double digits as he finished with 10.
A.J. Caldwell, who has been in a shooting slump recently, missed all six of his field goal attempts – all from long range – but he made his presence felt on defense as he was the second-leading rebounder with nine.
Perry finished with 22 points to lead the Racers after scoring just five in the opening half. Leading scorer Jamari Smith finished with 17 points, but only two after intermission as he got into foul trouble and spent some time on the bench. Burns finished with 11 points.
JaCobi Wood, a native of Cleveland who is Murray’s second leading scorer averaging 14.8 points coming in, had an off night and finished with just five points after making just one of eight shots from the field.
Murray State still leads the overall series by a 7-3 mark.
Chattanooga returns to action on Wednesday with a game at Tennessee Tech. Another road game follows on Dec. 3 at Gardner-Webb before the Mocs return home on Dec. 6 for a game with Milwaukee.
MURRAY STATE (66) – White 9, Jamari Smith 17, D.J. Burns 11, Rob Perry 22, Wood 5, Moore 2, Anderson, Morgan.
CHATTANOOGA (69) – Demetrius Davis 10, Jake Stephens 27, Caldwell, Jamal Johnson 13, White 6, Walker 6, Robinson 5, Alexis 2, Brady.
FIELD GOALS: Murray State 26 of 67 for 38.8 percent; Chattanooga 21 of 59 for 35.6 percent.
3-POINT GOALS: Murray State 6 of 26 for 23.1 percent (White 1-6, Smith 1-3, Perry 3-9, Wood 1-7, Moore 0-1); Chattanooga 13 of 39 for 33.3 percent (Davis 1-5, Stephens 4-7, Caldwell 0-6, Johnson 3-10, White 2-5, Walker 2-2, Robinson 1-1, Alexis 0-2, Brady 0-1).
FREE THROWS: Murray State 8 of 11 for 72.7 percent; Chattanooga 14 of 17 for 82.4 percent.
REBOUNDS: Murray State 42 (Smith 9, Burns 9, White 8, Perry 6); Chattanooga 40 (Stephens 11, Caldwell 9, Johnson 7, Davis 4).
ASSISTS: Murray State 8 (Wood 3, Moore 2); Chattanooga 15 (White 6, Stephens 3, Johnson 2).
TURNOVERS: Murray State 6 (Wood 3, White 2); Chattanooga 9 (Johnson 2, Walker 2, Robinson 2).
STEALS: Murray State 4 (Smith, Perry, Wood, Moore); Chattanooga 4 (Stephens 3, White).
BLOCKS: Murray State 2 (White, Moore); Chattanooga 2 (Stephens, Johnson).
HALFTIME SCORE: Murray State, 34-30.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)