Chattanooga looked like something out of The Walking Dead the last time it squared off with College of Charleston, but the team didn’t appear as undead on Saturday when the Cougars visited McKenzie Arena.
“Down there we didn’t have any enthusiasm,” UTC freshman Gee McGhee said of last month’s 27-point blistering at College of Charleston’s TD Arena. “We were dead on the court, like Zombies. We came with it in our minds tonight; we knew what we had to do."
The Mocs’ effort was better, so was there play, but that’s what made Saturday’s 71-68 loss to the Cougars that much more brutal. That, and the fact they shot a season-low 37.5 percent (6 of 16) from the free-throw line.
“It stinks because we know that we left everything on the court,” said McGhee, who notched his second straight 20-point scoring performance in the narrow defeat. “At Charleston, we didn’t hurt as much because we didn’t put 100 percent effort into it. Tonight we dove on the ground; rebounded as hard as we could. We were going to try out hardest and leave the game with no regrets.”
The Mocs (9-15, 4-7 SoCon), who trailed by five with just over a minute to play, pulled to within 68-66 on sophomore Ronrico White’s 3-pointer from the top of the key. After a pair of free-throws by Charleston’s Trent Wiedeman, McGhee grabbed an offensive rebound off a Mason miss, then added a putback to make the score 70-68 with under 20 seconds to play.
The Cougars, coming out of a timeout, inbounded the ball with 16.4 seconds left, but instead of intentionally fouling, the Mocs tried to come up with a turnover in the back court. Charleston broke the press, and crossed the half-court line around the 10-second mark.
“We weren’t trying to foul in the back court,” UTC head coach John Shulman said. “Once they get across the half line, then we’d foul.”
The team tried, but didn't do anything to warrant a whistle for nearly seven seconds.
CofC’s Andrew Lawrence connected on one of his two attempts at the line before White let go of a half-court heave in the closing seconds, actually drawing iron before the shot clanged off out rim.
“We left Charleston, S.C., a while ago — annihilated, embarrassed, humiliated — and I’m not sure leaving there that we thought we could play with Charleston,” Shulman said. “I think we proved otherwise tonight. A made free-throw here, a made shot there, a layup here, and it’s a different game.”
Led by junior Z. Mason’s career-high 27 points — 24 of which came in the first half — Chattanooga kept the game close throughout. The Mocs never trailed by more than eight points in the contest, and they led on several occasions.
“This is definitely one of the performances I’ve been wanting to get, and that (Shulman) has been looking for,” Mason said. “I’m exhausted after this one, but I guess that’s the feeling I should have after a hard played game.”
Mason, who had 17 points at the break, knocked down a 3-pointer with 12:55 remaining to give the Mocs their first lead since Charleston’s Anthony Stitt knocked down a trey in the closing seconds of the opening period.
Mason's second-half trey was his final basket of the night, though.
“I could feel it,” Mason said. “Just talking to the coaches I was telling them my legs were gone, but I still tried to be effective on defense.“
Mason shot 7-for-11 from the field in the first half — 2-for-4 from 3 — but the 6-5 junior was just as 4 of 10 from the floor in the final 20 minutes. He also collected five rebounds, a steal and a blocked shot.
McGhee finished with 20 points, eight rebounds, two steals and an assist, while senior Drazen Zlovaric added his third straight double-digit scoring performance — 15 points on 7 of 11 shooting.
“We didn’t lose any momentum tonight,” Shulman said. “It stings; it should. We didn’t loose any momentum. Those were two good basketball teams battling. We’re a good basketball team; we didn’t win."
The Mocs return to action Monday when they host Samford.
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.