published Friday, January 24th, 2014

Wiedmer: Mason's green monsters kick Elon

  • photo
    UTC forward Z. Mason (30) looks to pass against Elon Thursday at McKenzie Arena.
    Photo by Erin O. Smith /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The last time we checked, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's school colors were blue and gold.

But Thursday night inside McKenzie Arena, the Mocs about to host Elon, senior forward Zaccheus Mason decided to go green.

At least that's the color he chose for his size-14 Nikes. Actually, he went green with red trim. Christmas colors. Exactly one month after Christmas Eve.

"I'm a big fan of LeBron James," said Mason, referring to the NBA's best player. "These were his Christmas Day shoes [when James's Miami Heat visited the Los Angeles Lakers]. I got them at Footaction. They were a birthday present to myself."

If Mason, who turned 23 on Tuesday, keeps playing as he did against Elon in scoring 27 points and pulling down 11 rebounds, coach Will Wade might soon want to have all the Mocs go green. Especially after UTC won 84-63 to post its ninth straight win overall and improve to 7-0 in the Southern Conference.

And speaking of shoes, can UTC really switch from Nike to Adidas after a night like that?

"That's some swag," sophomore teammate Gee McGhee said when asked about his teammate's footwear, though McGhee actually delivered the single most swag-alicious (if that's a word) moment of the evening by banking in a 70-footer at the halftime horn. "I wouldn't mind [the whole team wearing them]."

Given the way all the Mocs are playing these days, neither might any of the 4,662 Moc Maniacs that the school announced as attending the game. Wade's team couldn't have made a much better impression if King James himself had been out there leading the Mocs instead of Mason and McGhee.

Remember how so much was made of the UTC football team's season opener against UT-Martin, only to lose and break everyone's faith and spirit for too much of the rest of the regular season?

Well, a similar push was made to get the crowd out Thursday night for this SoCon showdown with Elon, which entered McKenzie with a 10-9 overall record, 3-1 in the league and coming off a very respectable 10-point loss to No. 13 UMass.

So what did Elon coach Matt Matheny say when asked to compare UTC and the Minutemen?

"Very similar in a lot of ways," he replied. "Chattanooga is playing at a very high level right now."

Let's revisit that last quote. No. 13 UMass is 16-1. And UTC is "very ... similar ... in ... a ... lot ... of ... ways."

It's certainly been a while since any Moc has played at as high a level as Mason, the former Ole Miss tight end who passed UTC assistant coach Johnny Taylor for career double-doubles by posting his 17th to Taylor's 16.

That figure now places Mason in a third-place tie in the school's Division I era with Nicchaeus Doaks. Keith Nelson holds the record with 23, followed by Lance Fulse with 21.

"Just a lot of hard work," Mason said of his stunning numbers in SoCon play: 19.5 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 blocks a game. "I've been getting in a lot of extra shots before and after practice. Just a lot of time and effort. Anything to help us get better."

The Mocs have gotten so much better so fast since a 27-day December window in which they played only three times that you wonder how much better they can get.

"We were better tonight [than in last Saturday's win at Wofford]," Wade said. "But we've got to play better this Saturday [against UNC Greensboro] than we did tonight."

Mason believes those 27 days in December have made all the difference.

"Everybody started meshing," the player said. "He gave us a few days off. We put in a lot of work on our own. We had a few meetings. There were times when it was tough. He put us through a lot. A lot of running, a lot of conditioning. We just kept telling ourselves, 'This will pay off.'"

A 7-0 SoCon start does not guarantee a red-hot finish. The 2010-11 team started 7-0 in the league, finished 12-6 and lost to Furman in its first league tourney game on its home court.

But that team had no one like Mason, or several of his teammates for that matter -- young men who always put their teammates first, as witness the Mocs' 13 assists on 24 field goals, including eight 3-pointers, most of which were made because of an extra pass.

Still, this is increasingly Mason's team and Mason's season, his campaign for SoCon player of the year becoming a landslide win.

Yet as as the Spike Lee character Mars Blackmon once said on those old Nike ads, "It's gotta be the shoes," right?

"They're fine," Wade said of Mason's green monsters. "But if he can get 27 and 11, he can wear sandals for all I care."

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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jomo11 said...

The SHOES work ! Mason was almost unstoppable last night. Great Crowd. . . . i need to get a pair of those shoes !

January 24, 2014 at 10:03 a.m.
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