Staff Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press Chris Early was fouled on this trip to the basket but scored 21 points to lead the Mocs to a 75-59 win over Furman Monday.
Keegan Bell called it "Black-Out Magic."
That's his short explanation for the 75-59 win over Furman in what the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga promoted as a "Black-Out" Monday night, with free black T-shirts and free concessions for a season-record 5,107 fans.
The Mocs warmed up in blue uniforms but returned to the locker room 10 minutes before tipoff to find black attire waiting in their lockers for the first time this season.
"I didn't think it was going to happen," said Bell, who had 14 points including dagger 3s in the second half of the Southern Conference game. "They did a good job of faking us out.
"When we came out wearing black unis, it gave me goosebumps."
He gave UTC's largest crowd since the semifinals of the 2009 SoCon tournament a similar feeling when he hit back-to-back 3-pointers—the second from 25 feet—to give UTC a 58-38 lead with 11:56 to go.
Only referee Doug Sirmons could contain Omar Wattad as he jumped off the bench and rushed to Bell as Furman called time out following Bell's deep 3.
"I don't know what he said, but I'm going to celebrate," said Wattad, who also had 14 points. "I was hyped. He made two big shots."
They may have been the two biggest offensive plays of the night for UTC, which had one of its best defensive performances of the season.
UTC limited Furman (20-8, 12-5) to 38.6 percent shooting and 7-of-32 from the 3-point line. UTC also outrebounded the Paladins 39-26, including an 18-2 stretch to close the first half.
"We got back to the basics and played hard, and it was fun playing team defense," Wattad said. "We didn't feel like we were out on an island."
Junior forward Chris Early set a career high with 23 points just one game after sitting out the first 10 minutes of the Georgia Tech game for an attitude adjustment, as coach John Shulman called it.
Consider it adjusted, especially after a Monday text-message conversation.
"I took it like he was challenging me, and I like challenges," said Early, who also led UTC with eight rebounds. "I feel like being intense on defense helped me be aggressive on offense."
Early shot 9-of-11 from the free-throw line, while Furman as a team was 8-of-10.
"We're human," Furman coach Jeff Jackson said. "Like a lot of teams, where if things aren't going great, you can press a little bit. A couple of times, we fell prey to that. I thought their defense was good. We only turned it over 10 times, and we had some standing looks that didn't go in tonight."
The Mocs never trailed. They owned a 21-19 lead with more than nine minutes to play in the first half. Then they held the Paladins scoreless for more than five minutes and built a 29-19 lead before extending it to 35-22 after back-to-back 3s from Bell.
The Mocs headed into halftime with a 12-point lead and it was 49-38 with more than 13 minutes to go. But Tory Cage hit a 3-pointer, Bell hit his two long shots and Early sank two free throws for a 60-38 advantage.
The victory keeps UTC tied with Western Carolina in the SoCon North lead and avenged a 26-point loss last month in Greenville, S.C. Wofford, which led UTC by 42 points on that same road trip, is next for UTC on Wednesday.
"Can we play with Furman?" Shulman asked. "Can we play with Wofford? If not, there's no reason to go to the [SoCon] tournament.
"We showed we can play with Furman. We showed we can beat Furman."
Black-Out Magic didn't hurt.
Contact David Uchiyama at email@example.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.
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 ...