STATESBORO, Ga. — Saturday’s setback at Georgia Southern stung the Mocs, but as Chattanooga head coach John Shulman said after the game, “they all sting.”
This one had to hurt a little more, though.
It wasn’t simply that they lost. It was how they lost.
“It hurts because it was a last-second shot, and it was from a person you wouldn’t think would make it,” UTC freshman Gee McGhee said. “That’s what really hurt about it.”
McGhee, who tied his career high with 19 points in the 59-57 loss, knocked down a 3-pointer to cap a 27-8 Chattanooga run, erasing the team's 21-point, second-half deficit. McGhee's trey — the team’s first and only of the night — brought the Mocs to within 56-55 with 1:46 remaining.
On their next trip down, the 18-year-old drew a foul, calmly stepped to the line and buried them both to put UTC out in front for the first time all game.
“For Gee McGhee to step to the foul line and make both with 40 seconds to take the lead, that was pretty gutsy,” Shulman said. “For us to come back was pretty gutsy. We asked them to rip open their chests and expose their hearts. We asked them to go for it, understanding that in this business if you go for it, you may be devastated.”
It wasn’t quite as impressive as the last month's comeback against Appalachian State — when the Mocs overcame a 19-point in the final 6:36 of regulation — but it was close.
“You’ve got to dig down deep to get some enthusiasm and energy,” senior Drazen Zlovaric said. “There’s no 20-point shot. You’ve got to do it stop by stop — play by play. We believed in it and fought back.”
Unfortunately for the Chattanooga (8-14, 3-6 Southern Conference), that one-point edge didn’t last long.
It took the Mocs 39:20 to finally grab the lead, and it took Georgia Southern (10-13, 4-6) all of 29 seconds to reclaim it, as junior Eric Ferguson nailed the go-ahead 3-pointer from the top of the arc with just 11 seconds to play.
“Down 21 and to come back, take the lead at one point with what, 40 seconds to go; it hurts man,” said Zlovaric, who finished with his second double-double of the season (10 points, 10 rebounds) in Saturday’s two-point loss.
“We fought hard to get back, we just fell short. They knocked down their last shot, that’s it.”
Chattanooga wasn’t as fortunate when McGhee, who scored 10 of the Mocs’ final 16 points, fired a 3-pointer in the closing seconds. He pump faked to make Georgia Southern’s Kameron Dunnican leave his feet, leaned in and drew contact, but there wasn’t a whistle on the 6-5 guards’ air ball that ended up out of bounds.
“He bumped me a little bit,” McGhee said. “It was a foul, but the refs don’t want to have a reputation for deciding the game; making this team lose or that team win. That's just how it happens. I respect that call.”
The Mocs, who trailed 36-23 at the break, appeared to be heading for another lopsided loss early on. They couldn’t hit shots, they couldn’t make stops, and in the game’s opening minutes, GSU senior C.J. Reed looked like he was ready to put up a Trevis Simpson-like performance.
The 6-3 guard hit three straight 3-pointers for the Eagles in a span of 1:21, and the transfer from UCF had 11 points through the first seven and a half minutes.
“I was thinking about it,” McGhee said. “But I was like ‘they’re not doing that this game.’ If he’d have made one more I was going to take the initiative and guard him myself. He had a great game tonight; he knocked down his shots, but late in the game he wasn’t the one.”
Reed, the 2010-11 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Player of the Year, cooled off in the second half, along with the rest of his team. After hitting 15 of 30 (50 percent) from the field in the first half and 5 of 12 (41.7 percent) from beyond the arc, the Eagles shot just 9 of 30 (30 percent) and 3 of 13 (23.1 percent), respectively, in the second,
“We gave up 17 points in the first five minutes and gave up 42 the rest of the way,” Shulman said. “We dug in. You saw a team that fought. We fought pretty hard, and I’m more proud of them than (the loss) is stinging.”
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.