published Saturday, February 26th, 2011

Mocs can win SoCon North

Ricky Taylor rarely follows the scores of other Southern Conference contests.

But the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga guard couldn’t take his eyes away from updates of The Citadel at Western Carolina on Thursday night.

  • photo
    Staff photo by Jenna Walker/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Jan 29, 2011 -- UTC's Ricky Taylor dunks the ball during the UTC vs. Elon basketball game Saturday evening at McKenzie Arena in Chattanooga, Tenn. Despite the Mocs' early lead, Phoenix held onto the game before losing with a final score of 85-76.

The final post read that the Bulldogs beat WCU 70-62.

“I was like, ‘C’mon, Citadel,’” Taylor said. “Now it feels like we have a second chance.”

The result means that the Mocs (15-15, 11-6) still have a chance to win the SoCon North Division and a top seed in the upcoming league tournament if they beat Samford (12-17, 4-13) and if South winner College of Charleston (22-8, 14-3) defeats WCU (16-14, 11-6) today.

“I’m juiced for the game,” Taylor said. “We’re playing for a ring. I’m juiced about the opportunity we have to win a championship. I think we’re going to play the hardest we have this season because we have something on the line and something to prove.”

WCU will face the Cougars at 4:30 p.m., and the Mocs will tip off against the Bulldogs about 30 minutes later. UTC will play its game not knowing whether the Cougars helped the Mocs.

“The Citadel helped us out a lot,” senior Troy Cage said. “We still have a chance to win the North, and I hope everybody looks at that as a tool of motivation because we’ve lost five of the last six. It’s our biggest game of the season.

“We understand what’s a stake.”

The out-of-town update helped the Mocs put the humiliation of a 39-point loss Wednesday to Wofford even more in the past.

It gave them a second chance to claim a title that seemed almost impossible as frustrated fans fled McKenzie Arena during and after Wednesday night’s 97-58 loss.

“It’s pretty neat to play for a championship in the last game of the season,” coach John Shulman said. “Everybody has to play the same amount of games — maybe not the same people — but you have to play it out, and this is why you have to play it to the very end.

“We need to focus on us, and we’ve done good enough to be playing for a championship in the last game of the season.”

A victory would provide the Mocs with a touch of momentum heading into the tournament, which will begin for them — no matter their seed — next Saturday at 7 p.m. in their own McKenzie Arena.

The end of the regular season has little impact on the tournament season. UTC lost its final game of the 2005 regular season but won the SoCon tournament. It lost its last three games of the 2009 regular season but won the tournament.

“I do think the tournament is its own separate deal, and we’ll have a week of separation,” Shulman said. “If you want there to be carry-over, then you can have that.”

If WCU wins today or UTC loses to the Bulldogs, the Catamounts claim the North crown and top seed and the Mocs get the second seed. In that case they likely would face the No. 3 seed from the South, which either will be Wofford or Furman — the loser of their matchup today at Furman.

“If we want to get to the NCAA tournament, we probably have to go through Wofford again,” UTC point guard Keegan Bell said. “Wofford is not going to change as a team if we play them the next time around.”

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.

about David Uchiyama...

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 ...

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