ASHEVILLE, N.C. — Leave it to a good friend to euthanize the Mocs.
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga ended a miserable men’s basketball season with a 76-70 loss to Georgia Southern in the first round of the Southern Conference tournament Friday night.
UTC coach John Shulman shook hands and patted the shoulder of Georgia Southern counterpart Charlton Young, who was Shulman’s top assistant when UTC won the 2005 SoCon tournament.
They embraced after the game in the bowels of the U.S. Cellular Center with Shulman telling Young to concentrate on his team and Young telling Shulman to “stay strong.”
Even with four senior starters, the Mocs wound up 11-21 with a 5-13 Southern Conference season record and the first 20-loss and winless road team in program history.
“It told the whole story of our season,” Shulman said. “Our effort was unbelievable. It’s a loose ball here, a loose ball there and their pressure was relentless. They didn’t allow us to run anything.”
The Mocs let a seven-point lead with nine minutes left to play disappear in three minutes.
Once Jessie Pernell buried a 3-pointer to give GSU a 66-64 lead, the Mocs could never recover enough to lead again.
“We’re comfortable in that situation,” Young said. “We’ve been down a bunch. We’ve learned how to take it one possession at time. And we know that when things don’t go our way early, we’re going to wear them down.”
GSU sophomore forward Eric Ferguson had 26 points and eight rebounds. Jelani Hewitt added 15 points and Ben Drayton scored 12 for the Eagles, who will play Elon tonight.
Senior Jahmal Burroughs led UTC with 15 points and set a career high with 13 rebounds. Dontay Hampton added 13 points off the bench and hit 10 of 12 free throws. Freshman Ronrico White scored 12 points, all in the first half, and Keegan Bell concluded his career with 11 points.
The Mocs played well in the first half and built a 24-10 lead. It was 42-34 at halftime.
GSU took its first lead of the second half at 63-62. Then Burroughs responded with an inside bucket. But Pernell hit a 3 to bring the GSU bench to its feet and give the Eagles a two-point lead.
The Eagles executed in the final minute by scoring on their final five possessions, including a back-door dunk against UTC’s 2-3 zone defense.
Friday marked the final game for seniors Burroughs, Bell, Ricky Taylor and Omar Wattad — a team that was picked to win the North Division and content for the tournament title.
Taylor said several times that the end of the book isn’t written until after the final chapter.
Only an epilogue remains.
“I don’t know what’s up at this moment,” Shulman said. “I don’t know. We’ve got good young kids coming in.
“At the appropriate time we’ll see if they want to keep my name tag on the door.”
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 ...