Acceptance is the final stage of the grieving process, and the Mocs had plenty of time to reach that step during their seven-hour bus ride back to Chattanooga after their lopsided loss to College of Charleston on Saturday.
Now it's just a matter of moving forward.
“I had a lot to think about on the trip back,” sophomore Ronrico White said. “I had to analyze myself, and we analyzed ourselves as a basketball team on that ride back. We’ve got to do a lot of things better to get to where we want to be.”
UTC was dominated in just about every category in its 86-59 loss, but the thing that stood out most to Chattanooga head coach John Shulman was his team’s lack of physicality.
“Saturday exposed some things to us that we’ve got to work on,” Shulman said. “We need to get a little meaner, a little tougher. They manhandled us in every way. ... (CofC) got nothing from us, so that was disappointing.”
The Mocs got plenty of work in that department during Monday’s practice, which was closed to the media. And just like the weather outside on the cold and rainy afternoon, Monday’s practice was “not going to be very pretty” as the football pads made their first appearance of the season.
“I’m going to kill them,” Shulman said. “I’m going to kill them the whole entire practice. The goal today is to not shoot a ball. That’s the goal, and I think I can accomplish it. We’re going to hunker down on the other end and get a lot tougher. Not a little tougher, a lot tougher.”
It’s not the first time in his nine-year head-coaching career that Shulman has employed the tactic. For UTC’s younger players, though, it’ll be their first time going through it.
“It’ll be fun to see what happens; spice it up,” senior guard Dontay Hampton said. “For me it’s just like you’re in the neighborhood wrestling around, roughing each other up. If you’ve never experienced it, then you might not feel too good after practice.”
The first- and second-year players didn’t quite know what they were walking into as they trickled into the Brenda Lawson Student-Athlete Success Center, but surely they knew it wasn’t going to be easy.
“This practice will show whether we’re still dwelling on the loss, or if we’ve moved passed it,” White said.
The Mocs were outrebounded by a season-high 14 boards Saturday, were outscored in the paint 40-20, and UTC’s starting front line — center Drazen Zlovaric and forward Z. Mason — finished a combined 4-for-22 from the floor with just eight rebounds.
“(Toughness is) to sacrifice your body — taking charges, getting rebounds, boxing people out, standing your ground on defense,” Zlovaric said. “When everything isn’t going great, staying within what you’re doing and staying disciplined.”
In other words, the Mocs didn’t show much toughness Saturday at TD Arena, and Zlovaric has accepted it.
“First you have to look at yourself in the mirror and admit you were not tough, then go from there,” the 6-9 senior said. “It can happen once, but if it happens again, you’re probably not tough. If it happens once and you turn it around — punch back — then you’re tough.”
Stokes gets the green light
Chattanooga sophomore Lance Stokes, who has been sidelined with a broken foot since the Mocs’ 77-65 loss to Southeast Missouri, practiced for the first time in more than a month Monday.
“The X-ray is clear,” Shulman said. “Everything is full throttle. It’s just a matter of him getting out here and seeing if he can withstand the wind. Is he in shape? Does he know what he’s doing?and how (the foot) feel after practice.”
It’s still uncertain whether Stokes will play on Thursday against Appalachian State, but he’ll have plenty of motivation to suit up as the 6-6, 217-pound forward’s parents will be making the trip up from his hometown of Orlando, Fla., to watch the Mocs take on the Mountaineers.
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.