In first half of the game played at Boone, N.C., on Feb. 12, Chattanooga's DeAntre Jefferson (34) battles Appalachian State's Donald Sims for control of a loose ball. (Photo by Bill Sheffield)
BOONE, N.C. — Influenza became funny.
Appalachian State star guard Donald Sims waved his arms up in order to get surgical-mask wearing members of the student section to its feet right before tipoff on Saturday.
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga players had already witnessed that same taunt. Just 24 hours before, to be precise, a handful of Western Carolina students pulled the same surgical-mask stunt.
"People didn't really care that we were sick, and that was motivation for me," said Troy Cage, who had his second start of the season Friday at Western Carolina. "They saw it as a chance to get the upper hand on us. I took it personal. Then we played our hearts out but lost by one."
On Saturday, even Southern Conference commissioner John Iamarino was offered mask by an ASU employee — who must not have known of his identity — prior to the Mountaineers 78-68 win over UTC.
Iamarino declined the gag-gift.
"We've been through a lot, we're awful fatigued, but there are no excuses," coach John Shulman said Saturday. "We got our tail-ends blasted and we looked like a tired basketball team.
"I don't know why," he added sarcastically.
Influenza — the crippling virus, not the stomach bug — toppled four Mocs last week which sent UTC's schedule into a frenzy.
The end result of conference calls between UTC, Western Carolina, Appalachian State and Southern Conference administrators was that UTC had to play at WCU on Friday then at ASU on Saturday.
The whole situation has made Shulman emotionally sick, ill and irate.
"Unrealistic," is the term he used to describe how the Mocs went from planning to play at WCU, then postponing that game until Monday which mean App was first on the schedule.
Then less than 24 hours later, UTC had to play at WCU with two star players boarding the bus with IV fluids dripping into their arms just seven hours before tipoff.
Cage, Dontay Hampton and Jahmal Burroughs (due to Chris Early's suspension) were thrust into the starting lineup instead of typical reserve roles on Friday.
"The way Troy, Jahmal and Dontay played that game, yeah, they've been getting in games the whole year, but they played a lot more free and proved they can play for us," said Omar Wattad, who fell ill earlier in the week. "Now people know how talented they are."
The losses at WCU and ASU shrunk the Mocs' lead in the SoCon North Division to 1/2 game over WCU and two games over the Mountaineers. UTC is 10-5, WCU is 9-5 and ASU is 8-7 in the SoCon standings.
"It stinks coming back from the road trip with a goose-egg for wins," Wattad said. "I'm not going to blame anything on us being sick. It stinks not getting at least one win."
The Mocs were a last-second whistle away from forcing overtime at WCU and tied at App State with a hair more than 12 minutes to go before physical and mental fatigue clocked the Mocs.
"I played in back-to-back games quite often," said ASU coach Jason Capel, who starred at North Carolina. "But in order to make it to the NCAA tournament, you not only have to play back-to-back, you have to win three in a row.
"Is it tough? Sure. It's all about taking care of your body."
Which is precisely what four Mocs, including three starters, couldn't do, due to the real flu.
David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...