published Saturday, February 25th, 2012

UTC Mocs seniors play final home game

UTC seniors Ricky Taylor waita for a team practice to begin.
UTC seniors Ricky Taylor waita for a team practice to begin.
Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

There will be hugs, tears and cheers before the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's final home basketball game of the season tonight against Samford.

It's senior night -- the annual time to honor those players in the final home game of their careers.

"There's been learning moments. There's been joy and sadness and exciting moments," senior guard Keegan Bell said. "It's sad to end a chapter of your life."

There have been many accomplishments for members of the Mocs' class of 2012.

Bell is the school's all-time assists leader. Ricky Taylor is No. 6 in scoring in the program's Division I history. Omar Wattad has been one of the best 3-point shooters of all time, and Jahmal Burroughs proved to be a memorable player by displaying the determination that helped him survive Hurricane Katrina.

They earned their way into the UTC record books for individual accomplishments and helped the Mocs share a division championship last season.

But this year, the seniors and the rest of the squad combined to fall far short of expectations that had them repeating as champions of the Southern Conference North Division.

"It's real tough to celebrate knowing that a team that should be first in the North Division is in last place," Burroughs said. "Like any other senior, I thought we'd go out with a bang, win a championship and get a ring."

With a SoCon record of 4-13, the Mocs are in sixth place in the North, 11th of 12 teams overall in SoCon wins and 308th out of 344 teams in the country in Ratings Percentage Index. They've lost to the likes of Mercer, Kennesaw State and Gardner-Webb and have won just three Division I games by 10 points or more.

"These guys have been through an awful lot," coach John Shulman said. "These seniors would never have thought they'd be approaching senior night in this shape."

The 2011-12 group is in the record book as the only UTC Division I team to lose 20 games and the only one to go an entire season winless on the road. And the coach the seniors love may not coach next year because of results from this year.

Those are not accomplishments to celebrate, especially when this March marks the 15th anniversary of the UTC team that reached the Sweet 16, graced the front page of USA Today and may have stirred the creation of the term Bracket-Buster.

"We've set a few bad records, I believe," Bell said. "But we can't have regrets because we put ourselves on the line. Sometimes that doesn't equate to success."

No matter the effort, the end results -- the wins and losses -- determine success in basketball and all athletic competitions. There is such a thing as moral victories because sports reflect the grand scheme of life -- there are winners and losers, great breaks and bad shakes, tears of joy and tears of sorrow -- and just fighting counts for something in life.

"This season hasn't gone our way," Taylor said. "I'm thinking about kissing the middle of the floor, the 'C' if we're winning and Coach pulls me out."

Yet nobody can ignore the fact that what should have been a stellar season has been relegated to a season to forget.

"Yeah, we wanted a different story, we wanted to be No. 1 in the league, but we're not," Bell said. "We have to accept that. We have to live in the moment. We're in sixth. But we want to end our career in McKenzie Arena the right way."

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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