GREENSBORO, N.C. — Chattanooga didn’t appear to be playing the Southern Conference’s most prolific scorer early on in Sunday’s showdown with UNC Greensboro.
The Mocs held a 7-0 advantage in the game’s opening moments, and didn’t allow the Spartans to score a single point through the first five minutes.
That’s when UNCG’s Trevis Simpson got involved.
Simpson, the SoCon’s leading scorer, coming off a season-high 30-point performance, buried a jumper from the right elbow with 15 minutes remaining in the first half to finally get his team on the board.
He pulled up and nailed another mid-range J on the Spartans’ next trip down, then knocked down a contested 3-pointer before adding a pair of free-throws all in a span of 1:40.
34 minutes later, Simpson had a school-record-tying 41 points, while the visiting Mocs (8-13, 3-5 SoCon) had their third straight setback — a 77-69 loss at the Greensboro Coliseum. The defeat dropped UTC into last place in the SoCon North Division.
“I would have been more disappointed if our effort would have been poor,” Chattanooga head coach John Shulman said. “To withstand that kind of shooting — we should have been down 25 at the half — and to cut to two is a great sign. What do we do? We battle, we go back home and get better.”
UNCG hit 10 of 20 from beyond the arc in the first half, but the Mocs somehow stuck around. They trimmed their deficit to single-digits several times in the second half, but always seemed to be a play or two short — usually in the defensive rebounding department.
“We didn’t get some loose balls in the second half, and that’s something we can’t have when we’re down,” said UTC junior Z. Mason, who recorded a double-double for the second straight game Sunday. “We just have to do a better job of rebounding as a team.”
The Spartans (6-13, 4-4), winners in three of their last four, outrebounded the Mocs 39-34, and held a 16-8 advantage on the offensive boards. Mason finished with a team-high 11 rebounds to go with his team-leading 18 points for Chattanooga.
“It felt like we’d play great defense for 35 seconds, but going up against a team like that, we’re going to need to get that rebound after the first 35,” sophomore Ronrico White said. “You can’t give them extra chances. Like they did tonight, they can shoot the ball very well.”
The Spartans took their first lead on a 3-pointer from forward Nicholas Paulos midway through the opening period, The 6-7 sophomore then added another trey with 9:47 left in the half to put UNCG ahead by 10.
Paulos hit three 3-pointers in the first half, helping the Spartans out to a 41-31 halftime advantage, but it was Simpson who the Mocs simply couldn’t stop.
He almost couldn’t miss.
“You just have to get a hand up; that’s all you can do,” White said. “Going up against a player like that, you can’t worry if he makes one in your face. You worry about him making open ones. He maybe had one or two in transition, but I feel like we did a good job making his shots difficult.”
Simpson, who had 27 points at the break, gave the Spartans a double-digit lead at the break by burying a contested 27-footer in the closing seconds of the first half.
“You’re going to tell me we didn’t do a good job defending him right there,” Shulman said. “Two seconds left on the clock, hand in his face and he fires one from 27 feet. That’s good D. He makes it. The ball went in, does that make it bad D?”
Simpson and Paulos were the only two Spartans to score in double-figures, as the duo accounted for more than two-thirds of the team’s scoring.
White finished with 15 points, four rebounds and three assists for UTC, while freshman Gee McGhee scored 12 points and provided six assists.
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.