published Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

Diamond defense shines for UTC Mocs in 67-52 win over Furman

UTC guard Gee McGhee (12) dribbles the ball in towards the net during the second half of the UTC versus Furman men's basketball game on Saturday, January 1, 2014, at McKenzie Arena in Chattanooga. The Mocs won 67-52.
UTC guard Gee McGhee (12) dribbles the ball in towards the net during the second half of the UTC versus Furman men's basketball game on Saturday, January 1, 2014, at McKenzie Arena in Chattanooga. The Mocs won 67-52.
Photo by Erin O. Smith.

The "Diamond" sparkled.

The so-dubbed University of Tennessee at Chattanooga full-court pressure defense propelled the Mocs to a 67-52 win over Furman in Southern Conference basketball Saturday before a crowd of 5,023 in McKenzie Arena.

The Mocs made it difficult for Furman to cross midcourt and start its offense and held Paladins star Stephen Croone five points below his average.

The diamond -- and double-fist -- helped force 19 turnovers, which allowed UTC to score 14 fastbreak points and get four Mocs to at least 10 points.

"That was the key," Furman coach Niko Medved said. "The pressure really bothered us. They wanted to take the ball out of Stephen's hands.

"We quit moving, we stood around, and it allowed them to get out in transition."

Sophomore Casey Jones led all players with 18 points, including eight of UTC's first 10 of the game. Junior Martynas Bareika added 16 points including four 3-pointers. Zaccheus Mason scored 10 points and grabbed 13 rebounds while Ronrico White also had 10 points.

Croone led Furman (7-14, 1-7) with 14 points on 5-of-15 shooting, and he committed five turnovers. Kendrec Ferrara added 11 points while Charlie Reddick grabbed 12 rebounds.

"They didn't have a lot of people to come in," Jones said. "The biggest difference was the manpower. They were a little fatigued."

UTC (15-9, 9-1) showed no lasting effects from a 94-51 loss at Davidson on Thursday. The Mocs remain a half-game ahead of the Wildcats in the SoCon standings. They bounced back and played some of their best defense of the season. Furman shot 38.9 percent from the floor and 30 percent from the 3-point line.

"I thought we responded well," UTC coach Will Wade said. "We played with great energy and enthusiasm. They responded the right way and got a nice win."

Mason, a candidate for Southern Conference player of the year, became the first UTC player to score 1,000 points, grab 500 rebounds and block 100 shots. He recorded his 100th block when Adonis Rwabigwi tried to dunk less than 10 minutes into the game and scored his 1,000th point on a 17-foot jumper less than a minute later.

"I haven't focused on that at all," Mason said. "I leave that up to them."

Mason's milestones during a stretch in which UTC's defense -- full-court and half-court -- dominated. UTC held Furman without a point for 6 minutes, 35 seconds and built its lead to 28-11.

"This is the best our [pressure defense] has been," Wade said. "We made some adjustments from the first game. When our guys press with energy like that, it works well. I thought we left a couple [steals] on the table.

"We had the press going."

But Furman's defense came to the rescue for a bit by holding UTC scoreless on its final six possessions of the opening half. A 17-point lead had been trimmed to 28-19 at halftime. It was the fewest first-half points that UTC had allowed all season.

"I thought we kept getting back, and our ability to get those stops was a step forward for us," Medved said. "I was proud of them for not folding."

UTC delivered a punishing 10-2 run to start the second half, and a Bareika 3-pointer gave UTC a 45-23 lead six minutes into the second half. The Mocs maintained at least a 16-point lead until late when the end-of-bench players were in the game.

Those in the regular rotation sparkled in the Diamond.

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him at Twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.

about David Uchiyama...

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 ...

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