BOONE, N.C. — One senior stood out and stepped up while another just blended into the flow of the game.
University of Tennessee at Chattanooga coach Will Wade had the leader. Appalachian State coach Jason Capel had the other senior and wound up the loser after the Mocs beat his Mountaineers 80-70 in Southern Conference basketball Thursday night in the Holmes Convocation Center.
UTC senior Zaccheus Mason recorded his eighth double-double of the season with a game-high 22 points and 12 rebounds, and he added six blocks including a volleyball spike into ASU's bench in the final minute.
"Whenever they got in trouble, they threw him the ball and got out of the way," Capel said. "He dominated the game. I thought he was the big difference."
Mason powered UTC (11-8, 5-0) to its seventh straight victory -- the program's longest streak since the 1998-99 season -- and a two-win league lead over Western Carolina (3-0).
"This is a guy who's 6-5, 260, who can force double-teams and shoot 3s," Capel said. "Their senior has the mentality that he has  games left. He's playing like that. My senior [Tevin Baskin] plays like he's at Rucker Park, and that's the difference."
"Senior leadership says it all."
Plenty of UTC players followed Mason's lead Thursday, including Martynas Bareika with 16 points that featured four first-half 3-point baskets. Casey Jones added 14 points and 11 rebounds. Ronrico White added 13 points, making six of eight free throws in the final two minutes.
"Everybody is rowing in the same direction," said Wade, who urged his bench to start celebrating with about 20 seconds to play. "It's a total team effort. They're confident right now.
"We're playing aggressive and loose, which is a pretty good formula."
Having Mason in the middle is a good start to any formula. ASU locked in on him early and took him out of plays designed to get him the ball. So Wade called an out-of-bounds play for him to shoot a 3-pointer in the corner. Mason buried it with 11:21 to go in the first half.
"We ran the first play for him and we didn't execute," Wade said. "The 3-point shot got him going tonight. He started outside tonight."
The 3-pointers coincided with UTC erasing an early 10-point deficit. The Mocs took their first lead after Mason hit the 3, blocked a shot and then flushed a dunk with an assist from Gee McGhee with 6:19 left before halftime.
"I got so mad at my teammates," Bareika said of the slow start. "I started cussing that we had to wake up."
The alarm clock sounded on the defensive end. UTC held ASU to five points in the final seven minutes of the first half and without a field goal on 10 of its last 12 possessions. UTC owned a 40-29 lead at halftime.
"The stops fueled the run for us," Wade said. "That was the difference for us. We were able to keep them at arm's length in the second half."
UTC pushed its lead to 16 points with 14:41 to play following a steal by Lance Stokes and a lay-in by Jones that prompted Capel to call for time.
The Mountaineers (4-13, 0-4) pulled within eight points on five occasions but never with the ball. That was due largely to Mason, whom Capel praised as one of the best players in the SoCon.
"I'm really enjoying this year," Mason said. "We put a lot of work in the offseason into this. It feels good to be in this situation. It's a tribute to our hard work."
Contact David Uchiyama at email@example.com or 423-757-6484. Follow him at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.
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 ...