ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Mocs couldn’t have asked for a better start against the Spartans. No. 7 Chattanooga, which dropped both of its regular-season meetings with UNC Greensboro, led for the first 33 minutes of action at the U.S. Cellular Center in Friday’s Southern Conference Tournament opening-round game.
Even after his team’s 87-81 loss, there wasn’t much more John Shulman could ask of his team.
“We shoot 49 percent from the floor, outrebounded them and score 81 points,” he said. “I think right now we have to give Greensboro some credit. They beat us. We did not beat ourselves.”
The Mocs (13-19), who opened the game on a 12-2 run, withstood several second-half spurts from the Spartans (9-21), including eight unanswered in the opening minutes of the final period.
Greensboro’s final push was too much to hold off, though.
Fueled by 13 of senior Derrell Armstrong’s game-high 25 points, the Spartans outscored UTC 31-14 in the final 9:44. UNCG, which took its first lead of the night, 70-68, on a freshman Jordan Potts’ 3-pointer with 6:56 remaining—capping a 9-0 run—led by as much as nine in the closing minutes.
“I figured it was Armstrong’s turn, to tell you the truth,” Shulman said. “They’ve got a couple of guys that can really score it. (Trevis) Simpson had 41 on us; Paulos had 30 on us.”
The Mocs mounted one final push, stringing together seven unanswered in the final 2:44—pulling to within 83-81 on freshman Casey Jone’s layup—but junior Z. Mason came up empty on his potential game-tying look with 44 seconds left.
“I told our coaches (after the game) if we had the ball again and we’re down two right there, I’d go right back, run the same thing and give the ball to (Mason),” said Shulman, whose team opened the game with a 12-2 run.
“We had a very simple game plan. We were going to ride Z. as long as we could ride Z.”
The 6-5 forward answered his coach’s call, too.
“I just wanted to give us a spark from the beginning; just kind of set the tone for the team,” said Mason, who finished with a team-high 20 points and eight rebounds. “We have a lot of young guys, I just wanted to show them how to come out and play in tournament time.”
Mason had 13 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the first half, helping his team out to a 43-32 advantage at the break, and he scored seven straight for the Mocs midway through the second half.
“I had a decent game, but it still hurts to come out on the losing side,” he said.
Mason’s basket with 10:05 to play gave his team an 11-point cushion, but the contested fadeaway jumper was his final field goal of the contest.
Sophomore Ronrico White tallied 19 points, four assists and four rebounds in the season-ending loss for the Mocs, while senior Drazen Zlovaric scored seven points and blocked two shots in his final game for Chattanooga.
Junior Sam Watson and sophomore Jared Bryant combined for 16 points on 4-of-4 shooting off the bench, as the duo helped preserve the Mocs’ second-half lead while both Mason and Zlovaric were on the bench with three fouls.
“I think J.B. brought us something tonight and I thought Sam Watson did a great job for us,” Shulman said. “They battled. I hate it for our kids; I hate it for our fans.”
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.