The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga still has a chance to secure one of the four byes in the first round of the Southern Conference men's basketball tournament.
The Mocs won 81-72 on Thursday at Western Carolina by starting strong and holding on late.
Appalachian State's 70-67 win over Samford in double-overtime kept alive the Mocs' chances for garnering the last unclaimed bye in the tournament next week. UTC has to win Saturday afternoon at Appalachian and have WCU beat Samford that night in Cullowhee.
"We're tickled to death," UTC coach John Shulman said on the postgame radio show. "Kids are excited. Tomorrow is March and we're still excited about playing basketball."
Junior forward Zaccheus Mason recorded his fifth double-double of the year with 25 points and 14 rebounds. Sophomore guard Ronrico White scored 19 points and freshman Gee McGhee added 12 points and took a critical charging foul late in the game.
"This is a veteran type win from a young team," White said on the radio. "This is a road win. We had to find enough in us to come out with a victory."
The Catamounts (12-18, 8-9) were led by 21 points from Brandon Boggs. Tawaski King scored 12 and Trey Sumler added 10.
UTC held WCU scoreless for the first six minutes of the game and built a 12-0 lead -- a strong start that the Mocs have been lacking for most of the season. The Mocs maintained control and extended the lead to 43-24 on free throws from McGhee with 1:23 to go before the break.
The Catamounts headed to intermission trailing 43-29. Mason had scored 18 points by then on five field goals and eight free throws.
Boggs, a senior playing in his next-to-last home game, scored 13 before the break. Tom Tankelewicz, who scored 21 on seven 3s against UTC in McKenzie Arena, missed his two shots in the first half and finished 2-of-7 from the floor.
Following intermission, WCU went on a 17-10 run to pull within 53-46 and make the game competitive instead of a blow-ut. Then the Catamounts crawled their way to within five points, four points and ultimately two points at 66-64 with 4:35 to play.
Then McGhee made three straight critical plays by hitting a bucket, sinking two free throws and then taking a charge. He helped the Mocs close the game on a 15-10 run.
"We withstood it and kept them from making big runs," Mason said. "That shows the character of this team, and it shows how far we've come along."
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