published Monday, February 27th, 2012

UTC Mocs feel ‘gloom’ lifted

  • photo
    Ronrico White of UTC maneuvers through Samford defenders on his way to the goal Saturday.
    Photo by Jake Daniels /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

An impromptu contest of “Knockout” broke out after University of Tennessee at Chattanooga senior Keegan Bell took a break from his shooting drills Sunday.

Mocs players cheered and jeered each other as freshman Ronrico White cheated his way to a final matchup with freshman center Jared Bryant, but dirty play usually is acceptable in this game.

The guard beat the post player and grinned.

“Winner!” freshman Trey Brown shouted.

Teammates razzed Bryant for losing and White for cheating.

They laughed and delivered one-line zingers to each other. They were college kids enjoying an elementary school game played from the 3-point line.

The joy carried over from the night before.

UTC concluded its regular season with an 86-78 victory over Samford on Saturday night — senior night. The Mocs, who had lost 11 of their previous 12 games, outscored the Bulldogs 57-40 in the second half.

“After the game, to see everybody smiling was awesome,” said Bell, who scored all 21 of his points and shot 5-of-7 from the 3-point line in the second half. “In that locker room, I haven’t seen our team that fired up since before the [preseason] scrimmage at Virginia Tech.

“I felt that the doom and gloom is gone and lifted off our shoulders.”

Celebrations surrounded the Mocs on Saturday. First came the pregame ceremonies for Bell, Jahmal Burroughs, Ricky Taylor and Omar Wattad.

And then after the game, the seniors ate at downtown restaurants with their families. Bell diverted from his Steve Nash diet and devoured a chocolate ice-cream dessert at one spot.

The Burroughs, Wattad and Drazen Zlovaric parties randomly converged on another spot near the corner of Fourth and Market streets for celebratory eats and treats.

“What was special about it was that it was my last college home game, and being able to go out with a bang is what made me do it,” said Burroughs, who scored a career-high 19 points on 8-of-8 shooting. “It was enjoyable because my family was there to watch me play, most of them for the first time.”

Family members surely enjoyed the game — but not all of it. UTC led 13-2 just over four minutes into the game. Then the Mocs trailed 38-29 at halftime. But they responded to take an 80-67 lead with 59 ticks to tock.

Burroughs played the game of his life. Zaccheus Mason grabbed 12 rebounds in 18 minutes after missing seven games to a knee injury. Dontay Hampton went 9-of-12 from the free-throw line. And Bell hit as many 3s in one night as he had in the previous seven games combined.

“I don’t know if it was nicer for me or for him,” said coach John Shulman, who met with his assistants in another room to discuss plans for the week while White “knocked out” a few teammates.

The coaches were finalizing preparations for the Southern Conference tournament, which begins Friday for UTC against Georgia Southern.

“We’ve got to stay fresh, and we’re looking forward to it,” Shulman said. “We’re excited about it. The kids are pumped up.”

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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