GREENSBORO, N.C. — Chattanooga head coach John Shulman went with a new-look lineup for Thursday’s game at Elon with the hopes of avoiding yet another slow start, something that’s plagued the Mocs in recent weeks.
Senior Dontay Hampton got the nod at point guard, while junior forward Sam Watson started in place of senior Drazen Zlovaric in the low post.
The switch seemed to do the trick.
A floater from freshman Gee McGhee followed by a 3-pointer by sophomore Ronrico White spotted UTC a 5-0 advantage with 18:41 remaining in the first half.
Much like its 10-3 run later in the second half, though, Chattanooga’s spurt was short lived.
Its offense stalled, and the Phoenix grabbed the lead with eight straight points. The Mocs suffered through nearly four minutes without a field goal while Elon built upon its lead.
Junior Ryley Beaumont and Lucas Troutman combined for 24 points on 10 of 13 shooting in the first half, leading Elon to a 38-28 halftime advantage. Some timely 3-pointers by the Mocs were all that kept them in the game at the break.
“(Troutman) scored 18, but I thought our big guys did a good job against him,” Shulman said. “We were okay with that. We weren’t doubling in the post or doing anything out of the ordinary, but you can’t give up 13 3-pointers if you’re going to guard Troutman one-on-one in the post.”
Poor perimeter defense, which ultimately doomed the Mocs down the stretch, was another discouraging trend that continued in Thursday's lopsided loss, as Elon’s Jack Isenbarger knocked down a season-high seven 3-pointers, six of which came in the second half, and the Phoenix finished 13 of 32 from beyond the arc.
The Mocs have allowed 37 treys in their last three games, their opponents are shooting 46.2 percent from 3-point range during that stretch, and they’ve given up a SoCon-leading 179 on the season (8.95 per game).
The lineup change, at least for the opening minutes, appeared to be the solution for Chattanooga’s recent struggles. It simply delayed them, though.
The Mocs will be forced use their third different starting five in as many games Sunday at UNC Greensboro.
Hampton re-injured his surgically-repaired right knee in the final seconds of the first half, likely ending the former Chattanooga School for the Arts & Sciences standout’s tumultuous final season at Chattanooga. The other first-time starter, Watson, was also injured in the 85-61 defeat.
“It’s going to be shuffled anyway,” Shulman said. “I’m going to look at it. Sam (Watson) hurt his back in the middle of the game. Sam really couldn’t go, and we came out in the second half with Lance (Stokes) pretty much playing out of position. We’re trying to get things figured out midway through a conference season.”
Freshman point guard Farad Cobb didn’t play at all Thursday, while freshman walk-on Alex Bran came off the bench for six minutes in the second half — just his second appearance since Hampton’s return at The Citadel on Jan. 10.
White played the point for most of the second half, returning to the position he played through the first 11 games this season. His offensive struggles returned, too. The 6-3 sophomore, who went 0-for-5 from the floor in the second half Thursday, will likely start at the one on Sunday.
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.