Chattanooga held a seven-point halftime lead over the Citadel in Thursday’s 89-76 win at McKenzie Arena. In the their minds, though, the Mocs were down by double-digits.
It’s all part of the team’s new psychological approach to the game of basketball; it’s called “pretend you’re down 10.”
“We really had it in our minds that we were down 10 from the beginning of the game,” UTC sophomore Ronrico White said. “I feel like it showed from the beginning.”
It worked, too.
Even when Chattanooga’s leading scorer, junior Z. Mason, went to the bench with two fouls just 2:58 into the contest, the team was too focused on overcoming its imaginary deficit to be affected by it.
“We’re down 10, we can’t worry about Z.,” said White, who collected 19 points, five rebounds and three assists. “We just have to keep playing.”
Up on the scoreboard, though, the Mocs held a four-point advantage when Mason left the court. They never actually trailed after the game’s first minute.
“I could tell just by watching in the first half that guys were playing a lot more loose,” Mason said. “All of us could tell, it was a lot more fun.”
Chattanooga senior Drazen Zlovaric scored 10 points in the first five minutes to give his team an early advantage, and sophomore Martynas Bareika knocked down a 3-pointer midway through the first half, sparking a 7-2 Mocs run which put the in front by seven.
Bareika scored seven of his 12 points in the opening period, while White and freshman Gee McGhee also played key roles in their team’s 44-point, first-half performance.
“It’s a big deal that we were able to score easier tonight rather than have to manufacture basket after basket after basket,” UTC head coach Shulman said. “We had 44 points at half. We scored 57 the other night at Georgia Southern.”
A lot of that was due to the 1-2-2 pressure defense employed by Chattanooga in the first half, leading to 11 first-half turnovers by The Citadel (6-16, 3-9 SoCon), and 17 points for UTC (9-14, 4-6)
The Mocs’ offensive firepower only picked up in the second half as Mason finally returned to the floor. He quickly made up for lost time, too, scoring his team’s first six points. The 6-5 forward finished with 14 points, all of which came in the final period.
The Mocs increased its lead to 16 on Bareika’s second 3-pointer with 14:49 left. The Bulldogs trimmed their deficit to single digits twice down the second-half stretch, but UTC outscored The Citadel 9-4 in the final 2:57.
“I would say from the 4:10 mark down we were pretty good handling the situation,” Shulman said. “Z. gave up an offensive rebound; I wasn’t very pleased with that, but you’re going to have those. We did a good job making free-throws, and did a good job of handling their pressure.”
A season-high five players finished in double-figures for Chattanooga, which snapped its four-game losing streak on Thursday. McGhee led the way for the second straight game, finishing with a career-high 22 points, while Zlovaric added 18 points, seven boards, a blocked shot and a steal.
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.