Hearing somebody shout “Build a wall!” at a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga basketball game, usually coach John Shulman, is almost as common as hearing “Rocky Top” at a Tennessee Volunteers game.
Building a wall is part of the Shulman’s defensive philosophy and his lingo. Players hear the phrase every day.
But his Mocs have not been doing it well enough to win in their last three games, all Southern Conference road losses.
UTC (9-12, 3-5) allowed 81 points at Samford on Jan. 14, 81 at UNC Greensboro on Thursday and 88 at Elon two nights ago and now is in fifth place in the SoCon North Division.
“I need the Patriots to lose today to fulfill my theory,” Shulman said before UTC practice and the AFC championship game Sunday. “The best pitching in baseball wins; the best defense in basketball wins; the best defense in football wins. Defense wins championships.
“I don’t know where that has gone for us.”
The Patriots won, of course — the way Shulman’s luck has been going — but they needed defense of their own with Baltimore limiting their high-powered offense.
UTC won its previous three games by holding each opponent to 63 points or less, including a stout 51-48 win over Wofford in its best defensive game of the season against a Division I opponent.
“Coach preaches defense every day, and we’ve just played guys on the road who have played well defensively, but it’s not good enough for us to win,” senior Keegan Bell said. “Samford is hard to guard; at Elon you’re running around screens all the time; and Greensboro just ran all over the place.
“We have to get back to being disciplined and doing our job. It seems that we’re inches off where we need to be.”
UTC won five of its first six games after Christmas by limiting opponents to 59.6 points per game, including a 76-63 loss at Tennessee, which upset No. 13 UConn on Saturday.
“Our guys understand it because I’ve made sure they understood it,” Shulman said. “It has to be important every single day and every single possession.”
As UTC’s defense regressed over the last three games, its offense improved and scored an average of 76.3 points per game.
“To score 87 at Elon is great. Our inside-out was great, our ball-movement was great and we battled,” Shulman said. “But we gave up 88 and lost. If we defend, we’ll experience success.”
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 ...