Sunday, November 23, 2014 · 11:59 p.m.

Chattanooga focused on fixing dreadful defense

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Three numbers stood out to Chattanooga head coach John Shulman on Monday morning: 86, 88 and 90.

That's how many points the Mocs have allowed in their last three games. 

Another number that's difficult to digest for the ninth-year head coach is 40. That's how many 3-pointers UTC has given up during its current 1-2 stretch.

"That's where our focus is," Shulman said. "86, 88 and 90 is absolutely unacceptable, and that's why we're 1-2 in those games. We're very fortunate to be 1-2 in those games. We should be 0-3."

If not for a 19-point comeback in the final 6:36 of regulation on Thursday against Appalachian State, they would be. 

The Mocs' defensive decline goes back even farther than their 86-59 loss at College of Charleston, though. Five of the team's six opponents of 2013 have scored at least 70 points, while Chattanooga only allowed five teams to eclipse the 70-point mark through its first 13 games this season. The third-ranked team in the country, Kansas, wasn't one of them, either.

"I would question how important defense is to this team right now," Shulman said.

Perhaps the most troubling thing to Shulman is that the team's defensive decline has coincided with an offensive influx.

"I think they're more comfortable offensively," Shulman said. "Maybe in their minds, it's now we can outscore people and if we mess up defensively we can make it back up at the other end.' That's just kids being kids if that's their thought process, and I think that might be their thought process."

If that's the case, his message to the Mocs is simple: "We aren't that good offensively."

While their production at the offensive end has picked up in recent weeks, the Mocs are still in the middle of the pack in the Southern Conference (68.9 ppg). 

"We've been focusing too much on offense," UTC freshman Gee McGhee said. "We're just going to have to go back to the basics, just the little things really. We've gotten away from it and we've got to get back to it. That's really the one things that's hurting us. Even when we weren't playing good on offense, our defense at least kept us in the game."

The Mocs have also shown a knack for allowing career nights in the new year. 

Western Carolina's Tom Tankelewicz knocked down a career-best seven treys in Saturday's 90-81 win at McKenzie Arena, while Samford's Raijon Kelly's registered a career-high 27 points on 6 of 8 shooting from beyond the arc in the Bulldogs' Jan. 5 home loss to UTC.

“We just have to slow that one person down,” McGhee said. “If you notice, it’s been the one person that gets the lead out, and then we have to start coming back and chipping away.”

Appalachian State's Tab Hamilton (21 points) and the Citadel's Matt Van Scyoc (20) have also set season highs in scoring against the Mocs this month.

It won't get any easier for UTC as the team prepares for its upcoming trips to Elon and UNC Greensboro. The Phoenix have the SoCon's fifth-best scoring offense (69.9 ppg), while the Spartans lead the league at 73 points per game. 

"We've got to really make an emphasis defensively and change what we're doing," Shulman said. "I'm not saying change how we guard this and that, but somehow it's got to become more important to our players. ... We can guard. It's not like we forgot defense."

Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.

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