Thursday, April 17, 2014 · 2:43 a.m.

Mocs' Lance Stokes could crack Saturday's starting lineup

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Chattanooga's Lance Stokes has had to battle through a broken foot this season, but he's back to 100 percent and finally playing like it. He could make his first start of the season Saturday at Georgia Southern. (Photo: Billy Weeks)

Chattanooga sophomore Lance Stokes caught coach John Shulman’s eye in Sunday’s loss at UNCG. In his fourth game back from injury, Stokes appeared back to normal. 

Stokes tallied seven points and two rebounds in a season-high 22 minutes of action in Sunday's loss at UNCG. (Photo: Billy Weeks)

Unlike teammate Dontay Hampton’s return from an offseason ACL tear last month, it’s taken Stokes, who missed nearly two months of action with a broken foot, a little more time to get back in the swing of things. 

Hampton carried UTC to its five-point win at The Citadel in his first game back, then two games later dropped a career-high 22 points in Chattanooga’s improbable comeback win over Appalachian State.

“That’s not normal,” Shulman said. “It ain’t normal to do what he did. What’s more normal is Lance. He’s having a normal progression getting back into it, Tay’s was not.”

Stokes' seven-point, two-rebound performance in a season-high 22 minutes in the Mocs’ 77-69 setback to the Spartans seemed to show his coach that he’s finally there. 

“I was thrilled to see Lance on the floor,” Shulman said. “I thought Lance looked the part Sunday, and I thought he did a nice job defensively. ”

It’s why Shulman is considering starting the 6-6 sophomore at the three spot in Saturday’s game at Georgia Southern. Sophomore Martynas Bareika got the nod Sunday, in place of sophomore Ronrico White, who moved back to the point in place of the injured Hampton

Bareika didn’t do a bad job in his first start of the season — two points, two assists and two rebounds in 18 minutes — but Shulman said he prefers the 6-4, 208-pounder’s energy to come off the bench. 

“He gives us a spark,” Shulman said. “They both practiced pretty good on Tuesday. ... It’s between Lance and Marty. Whoever does what they’re supposed to do. I’m not sure.”

In any case, Stokes isn’t concerned.

“I’m not really thinking about that,” he said. “My dad told me that whenever you come in the game is when you start. Regardless of whether you’re a starter or coming off the bench, when you come in the game it’s your time. I’m not thinking about starting, just thinking about helping the team anyway I can and keep getting better.”

He’s not even worried about moving from the four spot back to the three, where he started his career at Chattanooga.

“I dealt with it last year, coming in playing the three then transitioning to the four,” Stokes said. “In high school I moved around all over the place. I’m used to changing positions.”

Really, he’s just glad to be back after having to watch 14 games from the sidelines.

“It’s great,” Stokes said. “I hated being out; sitting and watching. Having no impact on the game. I feel great just being back.”

Hampton could travel with team to Georgia Southern

Dontay Hampton wasn’t with his team Thursday at the Brenda Lawson Student-Athlete Success Center. He was recovering from season-ending ACL surgery, which was preformed this morning. 

He should be with the team this weekend, though, accompanying them down to Statesboro, Ga., when the Mocs take on the Eagles. At least if Shulman has anything to say about it. 

“I want him to be with us this weekend,” he said. “I really want him to. I just want him around. I like having him around. He’s going to sit on the bench, I’m not giving him a choice.”

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

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