A swished 50-foot shot from Keegan Bell deserved admiration but not celebration.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball Mocs saved the chest-bumping and high-fiving for after they narrowly defeated Savannah State on Friday night in McKenzie Arena, 65-63.
"It was one of those awkward things, so I didn't have much time and I just let it rip," said Bell, who had missed his first 15 of 17 3-point attempts this season before that ultra-long shot at the end of the first half.
"I was happy it went in, but going into the locker room wasn't a pleasant feeling," said Bell, who led UTC with 20 points and five assists. "We were very frustrated and fortunate to be down 10. We should have been down 20 or more, because we played poor in the first half."
Yet coach John Shulman said he remained calm during halftime instead of fueling the prevailing feeling of frustration.
UTC overcame that 10-point deficit and rallied for its second win of the season -- and first over an NCAA Division I team -- with Bell and Chris Early (15 points) leading the scoring and junior transfer Drazen Zlovaric adding a career-high 12 points.
Deric Rudolph led the Tigers (1-5) with 15 points while Joshua Montgomery added 12 and Rashad Hassan had 11.
"We didn't play great but we found a way," Shulman said. "It wasn't pretty. I don't know if expectations are making us tight, but we played really tight."
Early and Zlovaric had 15 of UTC's 22 points before Bell's last-second shot of the first half. Those first 20 minutes were reminiscent of the first 30 minutes UTC played last Friday in a 65-59 loss to Kennesaw State. The Mocs missed layups and open 3-pointers, were out-rebounded by five and took more shots from outside the 3-point arc (16) than inside it (14).
"We looked in disarray and scared to death, like we're letting everybody down," Shulman said. "There's no sense in letting things get crazier."
So, as Bell said, Shulman pointed at him and relayed a message.
'"This is your ship and the ship is sinking,'" Bell said the coach told him. "I took it as a challenge. I wasn't going to let it happen."
So he buried four of five 3-pointers after the break and scored nine points in the final four minutes. Early scored eight points in the second half, Omar Wattad hit two 3s and Shulman mixed in some trapping and zone defenses.
"We kept battling and battling," said Early, who gave UTC its first lead at 52-51 on a 3-pointer. "We had to answer."
The Mocs went up by three points on two occasions in the final four minutes. The Tigers tied the game both times.
Two free throws by Bell, a miss by the Tigers and two freebies from Dontay Hampton gave UTC a 64-60 lead with 9.8 seconds to go. But Preston Blackmon buried a 3 from the right wing to pull within one with five seconds left.
The Tigers fouled Bell with 3.9 seconds to go. He missed the first and made the second.
The announced crowd of 2,283 gasped when Rudolph launched a long 3 from the right wing as time expired. It hit off the back of the rim, allowing the Mocs a mild celebration.
The Tigers will face Gardner-Webb today at 5 p.m. in McKenzie Arena. UTC will play Gardner-Webb on Sunday at 3.
"It's nice to gut out a win that you shouldn't have won and figure out stops and free throws at the end of the game," Shulman said. "It's always nice to win. You'll see by the end of the year that tonight was a really nice win."
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 ...