Score one for the student.
Georgia Southern coach Charlton Young jumped higher off the floor Saturday night than one March night when, as an assistant coach, he helped the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga win the Southern Conference men’s basketball tournament.
GSU senior guard Willie Powers drove down the left side of the lane and flipped the ball out to Jelani Hewitt, who hit a 3-pointer from the wing that gave the Eagles a 75-72 win over UTC.
“Talk about a dream come true,” said Hewitt, who had 16 points. “Kids like me dream about that growing up — counting down, three, two, one. It’s big. I’m glad I came through for my team.”
The heartbreak continues for UTC (9-14, 3-7) which lost a fifth straight game — and third straight in the final seconds.
But this time the Mocs were in control. They led 58-42 with 12:03 to play. Everything seemed to be working just right even though their top power forwards — starter Jahmal Burroughs and reserve Zacccheus Mason — were on the bench due to injuries.
Freshmen were contributing. The Mocs were handling GSU’s pressure defense and were cleaning up the glass. They were playing with great effort and energy. Ronrico White and Dontay Hampton chest-bumped when Young called time out with his team down 16 points.
It seemed over.
“We were really rolling offensively,” said Keegan Bell, who scored 16 points. “We were up 16 and things were going well. When you have a team like that and don’t put them away, then you give them life and they can come back and get you.”
Drazen Zlovaric added 16 points and 10 rebounds for UTC. The bench contributed 22 points with freshman Lance Stokes starting for Burroughs.
“We played our hearts out,” UTC coach John Shulman said. “I don’t think our kids are going to bag it. I think we’re going to get healthy and keep getting better. This is going to tear us apart or bring us really tight.”
The Mocs held GSU to 34.6 percent shooting and forced nine turnovers to help build a 36-26 lead at halftime.
Bell scored the Mocs’ first seven points and added two later 3s to finish the first half with 13 points.
Zlovaric picked up some of the slack in the paint. He had 10 points and eight rebounds before the break.
The Mocs were able to score in transition and dunked more times in the first 20 minutes than they did in 80 minutes against Davidson and Elon.
UTC stretched its lead to 56-42 on the strength of back-to-back 3-pointers by Ronrico White.
Then the Mocs became sloppy for a few possessions and GSU took advantage. The Eagles changed their offense and spread the floor. They also got to the foul line and finished 14-of-18 from the stripe.
The Eagles took a 70-68 lead on a 3-pointer by Eric Ferguson from the right wing just 30 seconds later.
The teams traded buckets and then UTC had a shot to go ahead in the final seconds. Omar Wattad drove from the left wing and released a left-handed finger-roll that fell short.
Powers got the ball and headed up the floor. Then he spun and tossed it to Hewitt. Swish.
“We were fortunate to win the game,” Young said. “I hate that one of us has to win and one of us has to lose. Our program needed this game as much as they did.”
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 ...