BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Chattanooga’s Will Wade has a philosophy when it comes to coaching basketball. It requires superb shooters, tremendous length and an endless amount of hustle. The 30-year-old, first-year head coach also knows when he’s fighting an unwinnable battle.
That was evident Tuesday night at UAB’s Bartow Arena when the undersized and undermanned Mocs—playing without their leading scorer, rebounder and shot blocker, senior Z. Mason, for the second game in a row—came out against the Blazers in a 2-3 half court trap defense.
It wasn’t the up-tempo, in-your-face brand of ball Wade had promised upon his arrival at Chattanooga this summer, but the adjustment was a necessary one.
“It’s the same premise, just getting to it in a different way,” Wade said of the new approach, which did yield 14 turnovers. “We can’t just beat our heads against the wall and do the same thing."
It worked out pretty well, too.
The Mocs (4-8), who shot just 30.6 percent from the field while being outrebounded by 16, held their own against the much longer and much more athletic Blazers (9-2). They still suffered a double-digit setback, but it went about as well as anyone could have expected.
“I don’t think the score showed how close it was,” UTC sophomore Casey Jones said after the 67-52 loss. “It was close going down to the wire. We missed a lot of easy shots—I know I missed a lot of easy shots—that would have given us a better chance to win.”
That was certainly the case for the final stretch of the first half.
Clinging to a five-point lead following a Greg Pryor 3-pointer with 7:48 left before the break, Chattanooga suddenly went cold.
The Mocs, who started 4 of 9 from beyond the arc, missed their final nine attempts from 3-point range in the first half. During that nearly eight-minute drought, the Blazers strung together a 15-2 run to claim a 35-27 halftime advantage.
“We had wide open looks,” Wade said. “We got all the looks we wanted out of our sets. The one thing they did was make us a 3-point shooting team, but if they give you wide open looks you have to take them.
“I can’t think of one bad 3 we took. They were all 10 toes to the rim.”
The game could have been over at that point, and if it were a couple weeks ago, it probably would have. But Wednesday was nothing like the team’s lopsided losses to UCLA and Georgia earlier this season. There were no signs of quit on UTC’s bench.
“That was as hard as we’ve competed for 40 minutes,” Wade said. “We’ve competed hard all year, but tonight was 40 minutes. We weren’t worrying about the scoreboard as much as we were worrying about playing hard, getting that next stop and the next possession.”
UAB led by as much as 13 early in the second half, but the Mocs never faded.
Sophomore Eric Robertson drilled a 3-pointer—the team's first in over 14 minutes of action—followed it up with a contested jumper in traffic, and sophomore Alex Bran buried back-to-back treys to pull Chattanooga to within four with 11:11 remaining.
And while the Mocs kept the deficit to single digits until under four to play, that was as close as they’d get it.
“It’s tough being a little undersized and not having Z., who helps cover us with blocked shots and definitely helps on the boards,” said junior Lance Stokes, who finished with five points, four rebounds and a blocked shot. “It’s just some adversity we’re going through. Nobody’s going to take pity on us. UAB didn’t take pity on us.”
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.
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