The Mocs never trailed.
They only imagined they were losing as the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga beat The Citadel 89-76 in Southern Conference basketball Thursday night at McKenzie Arena.
Playing with a freedom and intensity usually reserved for when the Mocs get behind -- such as their 19-point comeback against Appalachian State -- they applied full-court pressure that resulted in turnovers from the Bulldogs and easy points for UTC.
"We really had it in our minds that we were down 10, and I think that showed the whole game," said sophomore guard Ronrico White, who scored 19 points. "It felt really good staying aggressive for the whole game."
UTC (9-14, 4-6) had five players score at least a dozen points. Freshman Gee McGhee set a career high with 22 points. Drazen Zlovaric had 18. Zaccheus Mason added 14 despite sitting out the final 17 minutes of the first half with two fouls, and Martynas Bareika added 12 off the bench.
"Defense wins on the road and we didn't play it," The Citadel coach Chuck Driesell said. "Well, we played it -- we weren't very good at it."
UTC shot 52.3 percent from the floor, scored 52 points in the paint and 23 off turnovers and had 22 second-chance points. Some points counted in a couple of those categories; most were a result of the pressure defense.
"We were able to score it easier instead of having to manufacture basket after basket," UTC coach John Shulman said. "We got some easy baskets and we were able to score in transition."
The Bulldogs (6-16, 3-9) were led by 25 points from P.J. Horgan and 19 from center Mike Groselle. Matt Van Scyoc, who scored 20 against the Mocs on Jan. 10, scored seven points and could not get in a rhythm with UTC pressing all over the court and the Bulldogs having little time to run their offense.
"It bothered us," Driesell said. "We worked on it for three days, but we didn't handle it the way we needed to."
Zlovaric ushered UTC to an early lead with 10 points in the first four minutes, including two running hooks across the lane.
He helped UTC build a 19-10 margin and maintain an advantage for the entire first half. The Bulldogs pulled within two points on two occasions but could not get the lead from UTC, which led at halftime for the first time since beating the Bulldogs 70-65 in Charleston, S.C.
The Mocs headed into the locker room with a 44-37 lead before 161 UTC athletes were honored for academic achievement in the fall semester.
UTC scored 17 points off turnovers while the Bulldogs had zero off four UTC mistakes before the break. Until Thursday, the Mocs had not scored 40 points in the first half against a Division I team this season.
"You could tell by watching the first half that guys were more loose and free, and we focused in on having fun," Mason said. "Draz stepped up in the first half. He got a lot of easy buckets."
Mason opened the second stanza with six straight points to lead UTC to a 52-40 lead. The Mocs extended the margin to 16 points and maintained at least an eight-point lead the rest of the game.
"Ten points isn't a big deficit, but we really couldn't get under it," Driesell said. "We shot it well and scored 76 points, but our guys did not play the way they're capable."
The Bulldogs will play at Samford on Saturday. The Mocs will face College of Charleston on Legends Weekend with former Mocs and Lady Mocs returning to McKenzie Arena.
"Those are the guys that built this," Shulman said. "Wes [Moore's] girls are coming in, and hopefully our community will support us and support them."
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 ...