SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Will Wade has a new motivational tool that is big, red and octangular.
Manager Jared Hawkins made sure he grabbed the sign before the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball team left its hotel Friday night and headed to practice at Wofford College in preparation for the game tonight at 7 against the Terriers.
The sign reads, "It's all about STOPS," and each UTC player has autographed the sign that Hawkins holds up during a few sessions of practice as a visual reminder to the players.
Stopping Appalachian State from scoring on 10 of its last 12 possessions of the first half helped UTC recover from a 10-point deficit and win 80-70 in Boone, N.C., on Thursday.
"We have to get stops," Mocs junior Martynas Bareika said. "That's how we've got all our wins. In the second half, we got in a scoring competition with them. We forgot what got us the lead. We need to focus on those stops."
Stops, scoring, rebounding and bullying opponents have helped UTC (11-8) win seven straight games for the first time since 1998-99 and begin its Southern Conference slate 5-0. Second-place Western Carolina is 3-0 in SoCon play, and three teams are 3-1. The formula also has resulted in good moods for those who wear the blue and gold.
"The sunshine is a little brighter, everybody is in a good mood and the coffee definitely tastes better," Bareika said after breakfast. "You feel better about yourself. You don't wake up in the morning and feel beaten up.
"You're still healthy and rested and you're thinking, 'You're fine, you're good.'"
The Mocs went through a pool recovery routine, grabbed breakfast and then held a meeting before leaving for Spartanburg.
About 12 hours earlier they departed Appalachian State's arena with the win, thanks to the defensive stretch ending the first half, Zaccheus Mason's eighth double-double of the year, 16 points from Bareika and their teammates all contributing within their assigned roles. Point guards Greg Pryor and Ronrico White went 12-of-13 from the free-throw line. Casey Jones had a double-double; Gee McGhee drove the lane; Lance Stokes worked as the madman.
"Everybody has their own role," Mason said. "Everybody is able to contribute in some way. We have a lot of pieces to the puzzle on our team."
UTC's progression led Wade to state after the win that everybody on the team is rowing in the same direction. He came up with that line while jogging around a levee while at Clemson and then running along a riverbank when he worked at Harvard and watched the crew teams practicing.
"If one person is off, the boat sort of spins," Wade said. "The type of timing and how much of a team [rowers] are really came through. They communicate on the boat, and that's stuck with me."
The STOP sign is new. Playing Wofford is not. UTC defeated the Terriers (7-9, 2-2) 70-69 last Saturday in McKenzie Arena with Pryor taking a charge from Karl Cochran on the last play of the game.
"It's a little bit weird," Bareika said. "They've been getting ready for us for the whole week. It's going to be another tough game."
The teams meet again seven days later and with Wofford going the entire week without playing a game, then facing a stretch of four games in seven days. The Terriers were slated to play Western Carolina on Thursday, but the league moved the game to Monday so it could be aired on CSS.
"I think it's ridiculous," Terriers coach Mike Young said last Saturday. "I find some of our scheduling practices awfully befuddling."
The benefit for Wofford is a week of rest and determination to avenge its last loss. The benefit for UTC is not having any rust develop during the middle of the SoCon season.
As for the Mocs' key to the game, they just need to read the sign.
Contact David Uchiyama at firstname.lastname@example.org 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 ...