JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — This time the season is over for good.
But the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's 79-66 loss at East Tennessee State in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament on Tuesday provided a glimpse into both history and the future.
ETSU and UTC used to dominate Southern Conference men's basketball in a heated rivalry, and the Johnson City school rejoins the league on July 1 after a nine-year absence.
"Based on the way fans were yelling at me tonight," UTC coach Will Wade said, "it should be fine. I don't think it missed a beat for some folks tonight. Both teams are poised to be good in the SoCon for the next couple year."
The Buccaneers were better Tuesday and copied the game plan that Georgia Southern implemented to knock the Mocs out of the SoCon tournament quarterfinals -- play a lot of 2-3 zone defense and let two terrific guards do the scoring.
ETSU junior Jalen Riley led all players with 23 points, and classmate Rashawn Rembert added 17. Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard added 12 points and A.J. Merriweather had 11 for the Bucs, who likely will return all four players.
"Their zone really gave us problems, and we knew we'd see 40 minutes of it," Wade said. "They've got the right personnel against us. I hope they win the tournament and bring it back to the SoCon."
UTC senior Zaccheus Mason -- in his last game in a Mocs uniform -- grabbed 15 rebounds, scored 12 points and blocked five shots. He became UTC's single-season blocks leader with 92, topping Neil Ashby's previous record of 89.
"They collapsed down on me and we weren't able to hit shots in the paint," said Mason, who learned before the game that he has been invited to the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament. It showcases 64 of the best seniors in college basketball.
After the game, one ETSU fan saw Mason and asked if he's a senior. Mason said yes.
"Good," the fan said.
Junior Martynas Bareika led UTC with 15 points, sophomore Casey Jones had 12 and sophomore Eric Robertson contributed 11.
"Playing in this is like getting a second chance for us at the postseason," Bareika said. "We had our minds right for this. We ran out of luck.
"It stinks to end the season twice."
But the game turned up the heat in a rivalry with 3,045 in attendance and the first 500 students through the door sporting white T-shirts just for this game.
The front read: "BEAT CHATT" above the SoCon logo. The back had "BUCS vs. MOCS" with the Twitter hash-tag, #RivalryRenewed.
Some ETSU players wore the shirts in pregame warmups.
The teams played the first 15 minutes to a 22-all tie. But the Bucs closed the first half on an 11-5 run for a 33-27 lead at halftime.
Neither team played up to its offensive potential before the break. The Bucs shot 11-of-24 against UTC's switching man-to-man and were able to get seven points in transition. UTC shot 9-of-31 (29 percent) from the floor, including 3-of-12 from the 3-point line. All but three of UTC's points came against the Bucs' set 2-3 zone or from second-chance points.
The celebration continued at halftime when legendary players from both teams -- including current UTC coaches Johnny Taylor and Casey Long as well as ETSU's Calvin Talford and Keith "Mister" Jennings -- were honored for their moments in the series.
ETSU extended its lead to 13 points with about 13 minutes to play. UTC had a 12-2 run to pull within 54-51 on a 3 by Robertson, but the Bucs responded with a 9-2 spurt to lead by 10 with less than five minutes to play.
Then ETSU finished off its 34th win in the 76-game history of the series.
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 ...