BOONE, N.C. — Confidence has been Chattanooga’s kryptonite this season, and that was no different in Saturday’s regular-season finale at Appalachian State.
“After (Thursday’s win at Western Carolina) I’m going ‘yes, we have turned the corner,’ " UTC head coach John Shulman said. “As soon as you think we’ve turned the corner, we go back a step. I guess that’s immaturity.”
The Mocs, riding a two-game winning streak, entered Holmes Convocation Center hoping to attain the final first-round bye in next week’s Southern Conference Tournament in Asheville. By the time they left the building, though, they had adjusted their aspirations.
The opening-round bye went out the window with Chattanooga’s 86-60 loss to the Mountaineers, now it’s a matter of getting things turned around before next week’s first-round game against UNC Greensboro.
“We’ve got to pick our heads up,” UTC sophomore Ronrico White said. “It was a tough loss—not the way you want to end the season—but we’ve got another one coming up. I’ve got to get my team ready. If we lose that, we’re done until next year. We’ve just got to pick our guys up.”
Chattanooga (13-18, 8-10 Southern Conference), which trailed by 25 at the break, knew there was potential for a second-half comeback, especially after its last meeting with ASU. This time around, though, there would be no late-game meltdown by the Mountaineers.
The Mountaineers opened the second half with an 8-0 run, and their lead grew to as large as 34 following a 3-pointer from senior Jamaal Trice with 16:27 to play.
“We played well for 34 minutes last time, we just didn’t finish the game,” Appalachian State coach Jason Capel said. “In their minds that game was over. The game is never over, and that’s why I left (the starters) in a little longer than I normally would have.”
Appalachian State faced a small deficit in the game’s opening minutes, but got things turned things around quickly and never let up.
The Mountaineers took their first lead of the contest on sophomore Tabb Hamilton’s trey at the 17:10 mark, sparking his team’s 23-5 run, and they outscored UTC 53-26 in the final 18 minutes of the opening period.
“We knew what we had to do in order to get this bye in the tournament,” said ASU sophomore Jay Canty, who led all scorers with 27 points. “I think heading into this game, guys were really focused. We played with a lot of energy, and guys played with a lot of heart.”
Senior Nathan Healy added 20 points and 14 rebounds for ASU (13-15, 10-8), while senior Jamaal Trice finished with 13 points on 4-of-9 shooting. App State tied its season-high with 12 3-pointers in the lopsided win, while its bench outscored Chattanooga’s 43-12.
“This was good for the them,” Shulman said. “They got in a big-game atmosphere, and did not perform real well. That can't happen next week. We talked about it in the locker room; the next time we put our hands in after an L, it’s over. We can use this as a learning experience.”
UTC freshman Casey Jones scored a season-high 16 points in the losing effort, White added 10 and junior Z. Mason finished one point shy of his second-straight double-double—nine points, 10 rebounds.
“I don’t know what it is, but every time we get beat really bad we get re-focused,” White said. “We really focus in on what we have to do. This team needs to grow to the point where it doesn’t have to take a beating like this to get us focused."
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.