Chattanooga’s Eric Robertson has had the kind of year you’d expect from a freshman. He’s looked great at times and lost at others; nothing out of the ordinary for a slender 19-year-old in his first year on a college campus.
It’s classmate Gee McGhee that’s been unusual.
McGhee’s learning curve lasted all of about two games, and since then, he’s played more like a grizzled veteran than a frail freshman.
McGhee has 19 double-digit scoring performances this season, including 11 straight, and he’s averaging 17.4 points during that stretch. The 6-5, 200-pounder has led the team in scoring on nine occasions this season, including three of the last four times out.
“Gee hasn’t looked like a freshman in a long time,” UTC head coach John Shulman.
It wasn’t until Jan. 24 that Robertson finally notched his first double-digit scoring performance, and he only has two on the year. Over his last 11 games, he’s averaging a modest 3.3 points, which included a career-high 14 in the Mocs’ 83-49 Valentines Day victory over Furman.
“Eric probably thinks 'gosh I’ve had a bad year,’"Shulman said. “Listen, in normal years, Eric has played more than most freshmen we’ve ever had. He’s just a normal freshman and he’s learning on the curve.”
So while McGhee is making his case for the Southern Conference Freshman of the Year award, Robertson is gradually coming along for the Mocs. As McGhee’s backup at the two spot, though, he’s had to do so quietly.
“Eric is the forgotten freshman,” Shulman said. “There’s no one that comes in with enthusiasm every single day and works like Eric. Sometimes it translates to the game, sometimes it doesn’t.”
Saturday was one of the games that it did.
Like most games this season, though, Robertson’s final stat line didn’t even compare to McGhee’s, but he certainly made the most of his eight minutes and three shots attempts.
“I’m getting more comfortable with the team, finding what my role is and just trying to execute my role,” Robertson said. “I just help my team wherever I can. Whenever coach calls my name, I just go out there, play hard; try to help my team win.”
He missed a contested layup in the first half, but the 6-4 guard buried two huge shots down the stretch in the second half, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 9:38 remaining.
His first make might have been ever more important, though.
“Everybody is going to remember the 3-pointer that put us ahead by three,” Shulman said. “But he hit a huge, gigantic jump shot in front of our bench— about a 15-footer.”
Following a 3-pointer from Elon’s Sebastian Koch, the Mocs faced a six-point deficit with 12:07 to play. On the ensuing possession, UTC burned about 30 seconds of the shot clock before Robertson came up with the ball in the corner.
“We were running a play, and I popped out, got it, looked for the top and it wasn’t open,” Robertson said. “I just called for a screen, came off it, it was open and I shot it.”
The ball ripped through the net as the shot clock expired, and instead of coming up empty on the trip, Robertson’s J sparked a 7-0 Chattanooga run, ultimately propelling the team to victory.
And while its taken Robertson some time to get adjusted to the college game, it didn’t take much time at all to get adjusted to college life. By all accounts, he’s a model student and citizen.
As Shulman puts it, “He kind of lives life the right way.”
“I would doubt that he’s ever missed a class, he’s an unbelievable student and an unbelievable kid,” Shulman added. “You don’t coach that; you don’t coach that. He just came with that.”
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.